A classic doosra-woof

Hick's struggle to go out on a high
By Steve James
(Filed: 04/06/2006)

Difficult piece to write this, given my unashamed admiration for the man and the fact that, without even a hint of hyperbole, he will always be considered a legend of the county game.

But I am worried about Graeme Hick. Worried that a glorious career might be heading for a less-than- glorious ending.

Just look at the figures. Last season Hick scored 932 first-class runs at an average of 34.51.

For any normal cricketer that would not be considered too shabby, but for a man who has the thick end of 39,000 career runs, averaging 52 with an astonishing 128 centuries, it was below the mark.

He went 17 innings without reaching 50. This season, with his 40th birthday now behind him, his first nine Championship innings have yielded only 120 runs at an average of 13.33.

The first warning signal was there at the start of the season when Steve Rhodes, Worcestershire's director of cricket, determined that Hick should bat at No 5 in the Championship.

It was a decision made due to a combination of Hick's travails last year and the responsibility of the No 3 spot more befitting captain Vikram Solanki's quest, however dwindling, to make it as an international batsman.

I misinterpreted that, excited at the prospect of Hick becoming a latter-day Jack Hobbs (a hundred hundreds after the age of 40).

That was because I was recalling how the great Sir Vivian Richards had batted at No 5 for Glamorgan in his final years. I was forgetting that they are two distinctly different animals.

Richards, always oozing self-belief, wanted to bat at No 5, but it seems that Hick, prone to the bouts of self-doubt which scuppered his international career, does not truly desire so.

Not only might he perceive it as a sign of weakness - and oppositions have already been quick to point that out - but he is also struggling to come to terms with its parameters.

Hick's career has been characterised by a familiar bounding to the crease once the first wicket has fallen.

At the more traumatised periods of that international career, it was a less-confident stride, but it was always done with the intention of shaping the match. Now, lower down, he has to respond to the scenario created by his colleagues. He does not seem to enjoy that.

Opinion is divided among opponents as to Hick's current powers. "Nothing like he used to be, much less imposing at the crease," some say; "no different - he's just been caught on some poor pitches," others say. Only Hick himself knows.

There has certainly been no dimming of his enthusiasm, even in this, his testimonial year.

He has always been supremely fit - ever since former Springbok rugby player Ian Robertson dragged him into a Harare gym in 1984 - and his fondness for net practice, during which he uses a bat half the normal width to increase focus on the ball, has been aided by this season's arrival of another slave to assiduousness in Australian Phil Jaques.

Hick's reactions seem fine, judging by a couple of sharp slip catches he has already taken this term, so we can assume that he is not about to do as Emrys Davies did in 1954.

After 30 years as an opener (as well as the holder of Glamorgan's highest score -287 not out - for 61 years until your braggart of a columnist surpassed it), Glamorgan stalwart Davies was bowled one July morning by Frank Tyson.

Davies returned to the dressing room, and, with tears in his eyes, told his captain Wilf Wooller: "I am finished. I can no longer see the ball." He never batted again, but it is the source of some amusement that he then became a first-class umpire.

That is not to say that retirement should be imminent for Hick. Though, with his contract to expire at the end of the season, he has clearly thought about it: "One day I'll just get out of bed and come down to the ground and think, 'I've had enough'," he said earlier in the season.

Despite this testimonial season, the Worcester faithful would surely not begrudge him an early departure if that was what he deemed best.

It would certainly be preferable to his old mate Rhodes awkwardly having to leave him out of the side.

Others, like Davies, have taken their leave mid-season - Graham Gooch did so in 1997, announcing that "there was no more petrol in the tank". Ironically his last game was against Worcestershire, in which Hick scored a hundred.

One should never underestimate how difficult a retirement decision is for a professional sportsman; suddenly to give up the one thing they know and love. And few receive the send-off they desire or deserve; Nasser Hussain's hundred at Lord's for England in 2004 obviously was a rare exception as a most fitting valedictory gesture.

It would be typical of Hick, with his penchant for big scores, if a double-century was just around the corner - and I certainly hope it is - but time is kicking on.

stevejames@telegraph.co.uk

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Hick hundred revives glory days
By David Green at Taunton
(Filed: 08/06/2006)

Worcestershire (444-3) v Somerset

On the ground where he made 405 not out 18 years ago, Graeme Hick scored his 129th century, his unbeaten 151 taking him past Graham Gooch among century makers, and bringing him level with Sir Leonard Hutton.

Ben Smith supported solidly, his unbeaten 121 being his 39th century. The pair came together with the score 170 for three and have so far added 274.

Worcestershire, who chose to bat on a featherbed pitch, got a good start through Phil Jaques and Stephen Moore, but then Charl Willoughby dismissed them and Vikram Solanki in quick succession.

Hick began quietly, his first fifty needing 84 balls, but, driving and pulling powerfully, he required only 44 more to reach his century. So far he has faced 184 balls, hitting 19 fours and two sixes.

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