Ben’s Porsche spun and crashed into a wall. He was just 24 when he died in the crash © Getty Images
Ben’s Porsche spun and crashed into a wall. He was just 24 when he died in the crash © Getty Images

 

By Adam Hollioake

 

Adam Hollioake recalls the heart-breaking tale of the tragic and untimely death of his brother and fellow England player, Ben. The below piece is excerpted from a longish interview Adam gave to Paul Kimmage.

 

June 8, 2002: It’s the evening of Saturday and Halle Berry, Denzel Washington and Samuel L Jackson have travelled to the Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee, to see the fight of the decade. So has Adam Hollioake. The former England cricket captain has paid thousands of dollars for two ringside seats, close to the Hollywood stars. Hordes of excited fans are streaming into the arena for the eagerly awaited smash between Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis. One is trying to claim the second Hollioake seat.

 

“Hey buddy,” he announces. “Okay if I sit here?”

 

“Sorry,” Hollioake replies, “that seat is taken.”

 

Ten minutes later it happens again. “This seat vacant pal?”

 

“No, there’s somebody there,” Hollioake says.

 

The fight begins with some early aggression from Tyson. Hollioake watches entranced. Between rounds, people are still trying to claim the seat alongside but he shuns them away.

 

“I told you, it’s taken.” And it remains vacant until the contest ends with the killer right-hook that floors Tyson in the eighth round.

 

Why waste all that money? What breed of a man would do such a thing?

 

Two and half months earlier

 

March 22, 2002: It is the evening of Friday. The Hollioakes have booked a table at one of the finest restaurants in Perth and are sitting down to a family dinner with their parents, John and Daria, and sister, Eboni. Ben Hollioake has just returned from the One-Day International series in New Zealand. Adam Hollioake has been busily preparing for the start of the new season. A date has just been announced for the Mike Tyson/Lennox Lewis fight in Memphis.

 

“Whatever it takes we are going to that fight,” Adam tells his brother Ben. “I’ll organise the tickets.”

 

Adam’s wife, Sherryn, Ben’s girlfriend Janaya Scholten and Eboni’s boyfriend, Luke Wyllie, are also in attendance. Sherryn is seven months pregnant and Ben has been insisting that they call it after him, if it’s a boy.

 

“We were getting ready to fly back [to England],” Adam says “and it had become a bit of a ritual that we always took mum and dad out for a family dinner before we went back.”

 

The meal ends shortly after midnight. The couples prepare to drive home in separate cars. The brothers live less than a kilometer apart in a suburb of South Perth on the far side of the river. Ben turns right for Narrows Bridge and the Kwinana Freeway as he exits the car park. Adam decides to use the causeway and turns left.

 

“What if we had gone the same way,” Adam says. “I must have asked that question a million times. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened. Maybe it would have happened to me. Who knows?”

 

He had been at home for 10 minutes when his father called with the news.

 

Ben’s Porsche had spun on the freeway exit to Mill Point Road and crashed into a wall. Janaya had been critically injured and was being rushed to hospital. Ben hadn’t made it. His brother was dead. He was just 24.

 

A week later, he delivered a deeply-moving eulogy at his brother’s funeral with tears running down his face. A year later, he launched the Ben Hollioake Memorial Fund for CHASE — the hospice service for life-limited children — and was the one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year. Two years later, he announced his retirement from the game and returned with his family to live in Australia. Five years later, he is still coming to terms with it.

 

“Do you want to know what I’ve learnt?” he asks. “You don’t learn anything by being happy in life. I’ve learnt that you don’t progress as a human being when all you are doing is walking around with a smile on your face. You learn when times are hard and bad stuff happens to you. I know so much more now, and am much more in tune with myself then before my brother’s death.”

 

“What do you know?” I ask.

 

“Well,” he replies, “I was just saying this to my mate [Matt Church] today. I remember when I was 23 or 24 and I’d see somebody in the service industry going around with a frown on their face and poke fun at them and say ‘How about a smile?’ or ‘Jeeze! What’s wrong with them?’ But they might have just lost a child! Now I actually take time to stop and think ‘Who knows what is going on in that person’s life?’ And that’s a maturity I didn’t have before.”

 

The weeks following his brother’s death were the hardest he has known. He spent his days visiting Janaya in hospital and trying to remain buoyant for his heavily-pregnant wife. The birth of their daughter, Bennaya — an amalgam of Ben and Janaya — in May was traumatic. Complications set in and Sherryn was rushed to intensive care.

 

“It was as low as I have ever been,” he says. “For a week it was touch and go.”

 

Two weeks later, he fulfilled his promise to Ben and travelled to Memphis with tickets for the Tyson/Lewis fight. He had bought a ticket for Ben. The vacant seat would be a tribute. I suggest that it might have been wiser if he had stayed with Sherryn in Perth.

 

He doesn’t disagree. “There are things I might have done better,” he says, “and that was probably one of them.”

 

We meet on a sunny Wednesday evening at the London Rowing Club near Putney Bridge. He has returned to the city for the first time in almost two years to run in the marathon today, with his father and some friends in cricket whites and pads for Ben’s charity. “I haven’t done any training at all for this which is a real worry,” he says. “I’ve been really busy at work and with a heap of other things, but I know if I have to crawl I will get there.”

 

He has not paid much attention to the trials of Duncan Fletcher or the World Cup. He met up with Andrew Flintoff several times during the Ashes, but never attended a Test. “I don’t know why,” he says. “I think I knew the result was going to be the way it was — well, not 5-0, but I thought it would be very one-sided and that didn’t appeal.”

 

His son, Addison, was born last July. He has enjoyed his return to Australia, and his new career in the property business, but says he still confuses himself when he tries to explain why he went back.

 

“The No 1 reason was for my family, not just my immediate family but my mum and dad were there and finding it tough after my brother and I thought it was important I was there for them. And then on the cricket front . . . I don’t know . . . it was like I had this sudden moment of clarity. I went from thinking I would play for another two or three years to deciding it was time to move on and do something else.”

 

“Not much confusion in that,” I observe. “Any regrets? Or don’t you do regrets?”

 

“No, I’m not inhuman. We all have regrets — I just don’t dwell on them. It’s funny but I feel like I’m in a strange place at the moment and have suddenly matured. It’s as if I have been stuck on this plateau for the last 15 years and finally managed to move on.

 

“I’m reading this psychology book that my wife gave me and it’s fascinating. All my life I have never shown weakness; I don’t know if it was a barrier I put up from a very young age but I never, ever showed anyone any weakness. It was a very macho thing, a very Aussie thing, but I put myself under a lot pressure. People were always relying on me and I put myself under a lot of stress and strain not to let them down.”

 

The interview ends with a knock on the door and a photographer takes him outside. He thinks of his father who has been training like a Kenyan and obsession with weakness returns. “I don’t want him to beat me,” he smiles.

 

(Adam and Ben made their Test debuts alongside each other in the fifth Test against Australia in 1997, the only time two brothers did so in the 20th century. Ben, 19, like his brother an all-rounder, became the youngest England debutant since Brian Close in 1949. Adam was six years older, but lacked the natural ability of his brother. He played four Tests, but it was as a one-day player and innovative captain of Surrey that he made his name. He captained England in 14 of his 35 ODIs, leading them to the Champions Trophy in 1997. Under his leadership, Surrey became the powerhouse of the county game, winning three championships in four years. He was named Wisden Cricketer of the year in 2003. He retired in 2004 and moved back to Australia, the country of his birth. Ben, prodigiously talented and hailed as the new Ian Botham, charmed Lord’s with a sparkling 63 on his ODI debut against Australia in 1997. You can follow Adam’s blogs at www.adamhollioake.com or follow him on twitter at www.twitter.com/adamhollioake)