For many years, Graeme Hick did not live up to his true potential
at the Test match level. He left a lot of his fans wondering at
'what might have been' possible had he converted those FC scores
into Test match runs. Here's an article by Andrew Miller wherein
he describes Graeme Hick's innings against the New Zealanders as
a throwback that will have the New Road faithful rheumy-eyed.
He also says that, "Rather than being a flat-track bully, maybe
Hick would be better described as a flat-atmosphere bully."
The enigmatic Mr Hick
May 13, 2004
Brian Lara's quadruple-century against England last month may have
been the definitive second coming, but down at Worcester last week,
there was another, lower-profile, but equally astonishing return to
prominence - one which has reawakened a debate that most observers had
shelved at the turn of the millennium.
It has been a full three years since the plug was pulled on Graeme
Hick's international career, but his brutal unbeaten 204 against the
New Zealand tourists on Monday has sent the psychologists scurrying
for their cobwebbed case histories. Within the fortnight, Hick will
have turned 38, and after an injury-blighted season in 2003, one
wondered how much longer he would be able to motivate himself. On this
evidence, and judging by the three sharp slip catches he inhaled
against Lancashire in the Championship on Wednesday, he will be
striding forward into a fifth decade with the sort of confidence he
could never display at Test level.
Hick's innings was a throwback that will have had the New Road
faithful rheumy-eyed, for massive hundreds against newly arrived
touring sides have long been a feature of his game. In 1996, he
clobbered the Indians for 215 of the best; three years earlier he had
taken 182 off the 1993 Australians, even if it later transpired that
the young Shane Warne had kept most of his tricks up his sleeves. But
the best of the lot came in 1988, when Hick cracked 172 off a West
Indian attack that included Patrick Patterson, Curtly Ambrose,
Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop.
For seasoned Hickologists, that innings is perhaps the most
significant he has ever played. Not only was it definitive proof that
he could take on fast bowling of the highest quality, he had also
played it in the knowledge that a score of 153 or more would enable
him to pass 1000 runs before the end of May, a feat that no-one had
achieved since Glenn Turner in 1973. As Sir Roger Bannister would
testify, racing against the clock creates a pressure all of its own.
So what does this week's onslaught against the New Zealanders prove?
Hick's detractors would claim that - once again - he has demonstrated
himself to be a flat-track bully, and it is a sweet irony that the man
who first provided him with that label, John Bracewell, is now New
Zealand's coach. But Bracewell would be deluding himself if he still
believed that were the case. Not only are New Zealand's bowlers fully
equipped to exploit English early-season conditions, they have players
of the quality and variety of Shane Bond and Daniel Vettori to do so,
as well as a burning - almost Australian - desire to conquer all
before them this summer. If Hick's hitting hasn't set their
preparations back a notch, then nothing will.
Rather than being a flat-track bully, maybe Hick would be better
described as a flat-atmosphere bully. As the son of a tobacco farmer
from Zimbabwe, he has never been one to seek the limelight, so it is
little wonder that Worcestershire - with its riverside location and
past***cathedral backdrop - has provided him with the perfect
home-from-home for the past 20 years. At New Road, the world is
watching only through the mediums of binoculars and hearsay, rather
than the all-too-public gaze of the multi-angle slo-mo replay.
That line of thought begs the question - how good would Hick have been
had he played his international cricket for his native Zimbabwe? That
is not to question his commitment to England's cause in any way, but
somehow one imagines that his tally of six Test hundreds in 65 matches
would have been all the greater if he had played the bulk of his
matches in the tranquil, jacaranda-lined atmosphere of the Harare
Playing for Zimbabwe would also have enabled Hick to travel as a
curiosity, rather than a reluctant trump card. After seven years of
being built up as English cricket's Great White Hope, he had become a
marked man by the time his debut arrived. In his first three years of
Test cricket, he was tormented by two alltime greats in Curtly Ambrose
and Waqar Younis, and one champion sledger in Australia's Merv Hughes,
whose lasting impact is summed up by one of***ie Bird's favourite
yarns. "Mervyn!" said***ie during the 1993 Ashes. "Your language is
terrible - what's that nice Mr Hick ever done to you?"
That nice Mr Hick did his utmost to battle back from his early
indignities, and he averaged more than 45 for three years after his
breakthrough century against India in 1992-93. But mud sticks, and so
does a career average that slips further from salvation with every new
failure. Once his form deserted him in 1996, Hick was jettisoned for
the next 23 Tests, which encompassed an Ashes summer, a West Indian
winter, and perhaps most galling, a maiden Test tour of Zimbabwe. We
will never now know whether his home comforts would have inspired him
(and a generally listless England team) to greater deeds.
He did at least have one trip to Zimbabwe, with the one-day squad in
1999-2000, where his returns for the series were undeniably
impressive. He opened up with 87 not out at Bulawayo, and closed with
80 and a career-best 5 for 33 with his perpetually underused offspin.
In fact, Hick's one-day career is the only lasting clue as to the
depth of his international potential - had it not been for the
preoccupation with his Test average, he might well have been
acknowledged as England's best one-day batsman of the 1990s.
Big-match pressures are every bit as obvious in one-day cricket - more
so in many parts of the world - but it is also a more forgiving form
of the game, in which instinct and enterprise are rewarded and
careless dismissals are quickly forgotten. Even Ambrose and Co. were
taken to the cleaners with an unbeaten 86 in only Hick's third match,
while the most mealy-mouthed of Aussies would have to concede their
grudging admiration for his three centuries in four innings in the
1998-99 one-day triangular. He was dropped for good at the end of a
disappointing winter in 2000-01, but there was a case for his
inclusion in last year's World Cup squad, even if he was 36.
And, whisper it softly, there is still a case for his inclusion in the
one-day squad. Powerful hitters with a proven reputation in the middle
order, a safe pair of hands at slip, and a World Cup final appearance
under their belts? They are not exactly two-a-penny in English
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.