Graeme Hick opens up to Simon Hattenstone about failure, and life
after cricket. Something more for Hickologists to ponder about
'what might have been', had he lived up to his full potential.
There's also a heart-warming incident that Graeme Hick narrates.
Quote "I mean, I got a letter from a chap a few days ago. His father
had passed away, and he just thanked me on behalf of his father for
all the pleasure I had given while his dad had been sitting as a
Worcester member. And I think, well, you know, is life all bad? I must
have done something." Unquote. More in the article below.
Interview - Graeme Hick
Twenty years on from his county debut and with another Lord's final on
Saturday, England's most celebrated 'failure' tells Simon Hattenstone
the real reasons for his international heartache
Monday August 23, 2004
Graeme Hick has scored more than 37,000 runs in first-class cricket,
made 126 centuries over 20 years, and has broken more records than
there's space to list. He's 38 years old, has a batting average this
season of just under 70 and, on Saturday, will play in the C&G Cup
final for Worcestershire at Lord's. Yet still his fans and detractors
alike are only interested in asking one question - how do you explain
your astonishing failure, Graeme Hick?
It's been a strange career and Hick is the first to admit it. He is
probably the most successful county cricketer of modern times. No
wonder so many people are itching to know why he didn't cut it at
international level - his first-class average of 53.5 slumps to 31.32
for those 65 Tests.
He has enjoyed many highs and some terrible lows. When we meet, black
clouds hover menacingly over Worcestershire's New Road ground, but he's
looking in great nick - tanned, huge and confident. Having made a
patient 20 in the hour's play before the rain came, he brings out a
massive banquette for us to sit on. I ask him what he fancies talking
about. "Not much," he says with a giggle. "Nothing changes, eh?" He's
never been much of a talker.
I have been obsessed with Hicky for almost 20 years. Soon after he
burst on to the scene in 1984, becoming the youngest player ever to
score 2,000 runs in a season in 1986, it was obvious he was going to be
the saviour of British cricket. The only drawback was that we had to
wait seven years for the Zimbabwean to qualify for England. I wasn't
cricket mad but I was Hicky mad.
The more he failed at Test level, the more desperate I became for him
to succeed. I think it probably became a sickness. At the height of his
failure (although at the time I was in denial about that) I wrote to
him, repeatedly, for interviews. He was feeling tender and turned me
down, time and again. Eventually I just turned up at Worcestershire,
asked for his autograph and told him who I was. I've never seen anyone
look so alarmed at the mention of my name. Then again, I suppose I may
have crossed the fine boundary between journalist and stalker.
Two years later, in 2002, he granted me an interview for Wisden
magazine. I was surprised by how shy and open he was. He told me that
the hardest thing he had ever had to admit in his professional life was
that he had failed at Test level. His sports psychologist said he
should face his fears and disappointments, so he had had to admit the
failure to somebody close to him. In the end, he said, he told his best
friend while churning inside, convinced it was the world's greatest
confession. He splurged it all out but, when he had finished, his
friend just continued waffling on as if he had not heard him.
In the same interview, 11 months before England's unhappy World Cup
campaign in South Africa, Hick argued that even if he was not worth a
place in the Test squad, he should be in the one-day team where he had
(almost) fulfilled his potential as batsman, bowler and extraordinary
slip catcher. He was not picked.
But now, 2 years on, he seems so much more relaxed. He says how much he
is enjoying his cricket, that he is still working on his technique,
striving to improve, returning to basics to stop himself falling over
He also says it has been a great year for English cricket. Nothing has
given him more pleasure than the success of the Test team in general,
and Freddie Flintoff in particular. He does not want to compare him to
Botham but cannot resist. "I think he has the same sort of character in
the dressing room. They just walk in the door and the dressing room can
This is something he has thought about a lot. Hick is painfully aware
of how quiet he was in the England dressing room. "I'm quite a
sensitive introvert. I'm not somebody who goes to talk to people
easily, and maybe I didn't . . ." He trails off in typical fashion.
"Maybe if I'd been a little more arrogant and just gone out there and
done whatever, and been a bit more thick-skinned, it might have been
The surprising thing, I suggest, is that so many people mistook that
shyness for arrogance and believed you simply did not care. He nods.
"Unfortunately, when you're a quiet person and not that many people
know you apart from your very close friends, everyone just forms an
opinion. Saying I didn't care was probably as far from the truth as you
One of the myriad theories bandied around was that Hick had been found
out by the short ball - that he had played too much county cricket,
allowed too many flaws to creep into his technique, and could not raise
his game at Test level. He is not convinced. "I'm not saying I played
the short ball as Viv Richards might have done, but I've got runs at
some stage pretty much against most bowlers who have been around, so I
don't believe that was the actual cause."
So what was it? "It was more the whole picture, the pressure and
everything." Was he aware of the pressure building? "I didn't think
much about it till that year  started really, and from the start
of that season I didn't bat well. On reflection, that was the only
thing which was different that year."
Nobody's Test career was anticipated quite like Graeme Hick's. On the
eve of his debut against West Indies in 1991, the journalist Brough
also a touch of sadness about it." Hick scored six in both innings, and
by August he had been dropped having scored 75 runs at 10.71. He was
dropped in virtually every series he played after that. Hick's
international career was woefully mismanaged.
I mention something the former England team manager Ray Illingworth
said years ago - how when Mike Atherton told Hick he was dropped in
1995, "I saw him dashing out crying. It showed a softness." It seems
such a callous and unsympathetic remark.
"I remember that instance very well, actually," Hick says, looking down
at his huge lamb-chop fingers. "I'm not embarrassed by that. I'm not
someone who holds emotion in very easily. I can watch my kids running
at sports day and get tears in my eyes. It's just the way I am. For me,
when that happened I was trying so hard to get everything right and get
a good run in the side and then, you know, I got told on the morning of
the game that I wasn't playing, and it was very disappointing."
At times the way Hick was managed seemed to verge on the vindictive.
During the 1994-5 Ashes tour, when he was 98 not out and battling his
way back into form against Australia in Sydney, Atherton declared,
accusing him of scoring too slowly. Two years ago Hick told me "I
regard Athers as a good friend, but I wouldn't have minded a good thump
I ask him if Atherton ever apologised. No, he says, he doesn't want to
go there; the past is the past.
But does he think there were people in the England set-up who actually
wanted him to fail? "I don't know. I wouldn't like to answer that
question if I felt it . . ."
Did he become phobic about playing for England? "No, not at all." He
smiles. "I always enjoyed the game. Sometimes things didn't go well,
but I always enjoyed being out there. In the end, it's sport, it's not
life and death." He says his favourite innings for England was the 40
he scored in Karachi to help England clinch the series against Pakistan
in December 2000.
When we last met, Hick said he was beginning to think about life after
cricket, to mull over a few business ideas. He is still nowhere near
making a decision. Yes, he's doing a coaching course and, yes, he knows
he won't be going back to Zimbabwe (his parents live in Harare), but
retirement does not even seem to be on his radar. When pressed, he
admits he still has a few records in sight.
"I think I need two or three more hundreds to come up towards Hutton
and Gooch, so it would be nice to get another couple this year."
No one playing cricket today is in sight of Hick's number of hundreds.
Indeed, it has been suggested he may be the last player to score 100
hundreds because so much Test cricket is played these days. "Well, I
think Ramprakash may be close," he says. "He's in his early 70s now."
Which only goes to show how obsessed Hick is with records.
I ask Hick if he can now look at his career and celebrate his
achievements, rather than dwell on his failures.
"The England question is easy to answer because clearly I've moved on
from that," he says. "If you'd asked me the question four years ago I
would have ummed-and-aahed a bit, but I'm pretty realistic. I know
there's been a few disappointing times, but I look back and see what
I've done and think, well, it's not all bad."
A lovely smile spreads across his face. "I mean, I got a letter from a
chap a few days ago. His father had passed away, and he just thanked me
on behalf of his father for all the pleasure I had given while his dad
had been sitting as a Worcester member. And I think, well, you know, is
life all bad? I must have done something." ...
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