He was once the future of Surrey, its youngest captain in more than a century, and, with a trophy in the cabinet and his fearless batting paying off against the new white ball, there were whispers about England too. But Rory Hamilton-Brown has swapped his brown cap for a bowler hat and now seeks his fortune in The City – a wrist injury has forced him to retire aged just 27. Here are three personal memories of his brief, turbulent career.
I had thought that it was another cold-caller shilling PPI riches but it wasn’t. It was Surrey County Cricket Club asking if my son would like to be the mascot next Sunday with an individualised team shirt and six tickets thrown in. I waited for the sell – “A bargain at just £150 for the package – but the sell never came. Turnstile records had shown that Linus had been to every one-dayer that season, so the gig was a thank-you to him for his support. The club could not have been more solicitous and a Day To Remember was had by all.
Walking out to the middle for the toss, my boy and the Surrey captain shared blond hair, a stocky physique and an awkwardness in their roles – it jarred when I realised that, though not yet fifty, I was plenty old enough to be father to both of them. It was strange to see my son walking back to the boundary with just the players and the umpires in the vast greeness – like Viv had done in 1976 and KP in 2005. It was just as strange to see R H-B’s photograph framed on the wall of the Pavilion alongside Surrey captains like Hobbs, May, Surridge, Stewarts (AJ and MJ) and Hollioake. Coach and mentor Chris Adams seemed the only person whom this didn’t strike as very odd. Even R H-B’s wellwishers felt it might be too much too soon – and it probably was.
Fielding nine international cricketers, Surrey had been bowled out for 99 in 18.1 overs with Gloucestershire knocking them off in fewer than half their allotted twenty overs, all ten wickets in hand. The evening sun had barely dipped behind the OCS Stand; the boos rang out, fueled by the booze, but hardly unjustified after an abject display from some highly compensated players. Just look at it!
That brutal noise hurt all the players, but I suspect that it hurt the 22 years-old captain the most. He must have felt us thinking about the privileged upbringing, the pushy father, the Millfield School education, the seamless progression through representative age group cricket, the Chosen One status with Chris Adams, the voice and the looks of one of The Entitled, just a few days after this lot had assumed political power.
In the months that followed, we understood the man-child better. He led from the front (indeed, in that dreadful Gloucestershire drubbing, he opened and top-scored with 41 having watched Mark Ramprakash, Andrew Symonds and Younis Khan muster 4 runs between them at 3, 4 and 5). He often bowled at the death too – usually unsuccessfully, but he didn’t shy away. He was, like a fresh-faced officer on The Somme, too brave for his own good.
Despite the jibes still thrown at his club, he didn’t strut about and he would look to the intense Ramprakash and ruddy-faced Gareth Batty for advice that could appear rather more often than he would like at times. Both men may have failed as England cricketers, but they knew their way round the county circuit and they knew their way round a dressing room. What was said and done on and off the field, we’ll never know – what we do know was that R H-B was midway through one of life’s toughest propositions: he was growing up in public.
In the poky little room in the Lord’s Museum that hosts press conferences, Jade Dernbach looked punch-drunk after 24 hours that had seen him take a couple of wickets in an England ODI win over India, drive overnight from Cardiff to London and then deliver a Man of the Match performance as Surrey hammered Somerset to lift the C&G Trophy. Next to him, untattooed, happy and almost visibly recalling his media training, sat the man who had held the cup aloft, who had made 78 to guide his team home and who, after winning promotion to Division One of the County Championship, might have “I told you so’ed” for twenty minutes with complete justification. He didn’t. He enjoyed the moment and looked forward to the 2012 campaign that promised much for his team and himself.
Just a couple of months into that season, Tom Maynard died and R H-B was never the same man again.