Cricket: Hick finds his form with a vengeance

England's batting enigma has shown in recent matches that he remains an outstanding one-day player
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The Independent Online
IF GRAEME HICK owed England anything he has embarked on a programme of massive debt reduction. Three international hundreds in four matches and nine days, interrupted only by an unbeaten 66, represents the sort of repayment that tends to erase the details of a dodgy previous record of deposits.

This past fortnight in Australia he has looked the batsman he was always meant to be. It may never happen for him now in Tests but just as time seemed to be running out for him in the one-day game as well he has thrillingly confirmed his status.

Hick has been imperturbable and masterful. He has judged, nay determined, the pace of his and the team's innings and, towards the end of both, given the ball a clobbering. Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan, two great spinners, have been dispatched routinely for sixes. Nobody else in the Carlton & United Series has dismissed them so brusquely.

"I'm feeling confident in both forms of the game and just enjoying it," he said the day after making his second century against Australia in consecutive matches. "I'm feeling as content about everything as I have ever done." This is as profound as Hick becomes in discussing his form though he conceded his present run had turned him giddy. "I must be slightly ill or something," is as jocular as he becomes on the subject.

Enigma and Hick have long since been irrevocably attached. They are by now one of the nation's most formidable double acts. When Hick goes out to bat for England, enigma is never far behind. Last summer when he was selected again for the Test side it was his seventh (or was it eighth?) recall. He made the right noises and was as bullish as he can have been on the eve of the return.

When it came to it against South Africa he failed. There were several mean and uninformed comments about this, some of them unnecessarily in print. Since he was first picked for England accompanied by a sense of heady expectation (his partner before enigma) he has been targeted by the opposition fast bowlers, leading to the conclusion that he is not partial to the whiff of cordite beneath his nostrils.

Last summer the opposition again decided upon the wise policy that it would be best to remove him before he let them have both barrels in return. While this worked there was the suspicion that Hick was merely in a poor patch of form, nothing more. His century in the summer's last Test at The Oval was both timely and untimely. He made it shortly before the winter tour party was picked but as it was against a Sri Lanka bereft of fast bowlers and before the pitch began to take Murali's turn, it allowed the doubters to rerun the old insult that he was nothing but a flat track bully.

The selectors omitted Hick from the original tour party, but injury brought him into the squad and the team. It was another series short on fulfilment. The brash 68 he made at Perth in the second innings when he peppered Jason Gillespie was mere flattery. Not much followed. At the start of the triangular one-day series, England's opportunity not only to salvage something significant from Australia but to prepare for the World Cup, he was disappointing. He was trying to accumulate too much too soon, there was a hint of freneticism that did not become him. Then transformation. He batted at No 3 and altered his style.

"It's very difficult for a pinch hitter to go out and strike the ball immediately against the attack Australia had," he said. "They played their cricket much the same with proper batting with a more attacking approach. Some players aren't fussy where they bat, but I enjoy going in at three. I mentioned it and it was decided at the team meeting.

"I have made more of an effort to play myself in a bit more at the start rather than push it too early. But we've spoken as a team about whoever gets in from one to four must stay in. That's all I've done. I would have liked to have done better in the Tests but I was always confident."

Hick's sequence - his seven innings in the competition have been 8, 37, 3, 108, 66no, 126no, 109 - has made him the highest scorer in the tournament, taken him to within 66 of 3,000 one-day international runs, and taken his average above 40. It has probably also heightened his popularity among his colleagues. If that was possible, because he is held in high esteem in the dressing-room for reasons other than what his batting can bring to the party.

Alec Stewart, his captain for one, obviously thinks as much of him as Captain Corelli did of his mandolin. "We all know what a world-class player he is. What's disappointing for him is that he's scored back to back hundreds and lost both games. But he's playing as well as I have seen him play internationally."

There was more besides his batting. "He's a top fellow. Among his team- mates and people he knows well he's very good company, he expresses himself well and has good ideas about the game. Saying that, he doesn't give too much away to people he doesn't know well." Which is perhaps as it should be but it would also be welcome if he did not carry this diffidence to the crease too often for England.

Hick has five Test hundreds and now five in limited overs, not to be sniffed at, but not what was in mind for him back in 1990 when he made his debut. Despite more than 50 Tests and more than 80 one-day internationals he has probably never been sure of his place in the team. He still isn't. When it was put to him that he was now established he said: "How long will that last?" But he was giving nothing else away.

HICK'S SERIES RECORD

10 Jan v Australia (Brisbane) c Gilchrist b Fleming 8

England won on faster run rate

11 Jan v Sri Lanka (Brisbane)

c Kaluwitharana b Muralitharan 37

England won with three balls remaining

15 Jan v Australia (Melbourne) c Gilchrist b Fleming 3

Australia won by nine wickets

17 Jan v Australia (Sydney) lbw Fleming 108

England won by seven runs

19 Jan v Sri Lanka (Melbourne) not out 66

England won by seven wickets

24 Jan v Sri Lanka (Adelaide) not out 126

Sri Lanka won by one wicket

26 Jan v Australia (Adelaide) run out 109

Australia won by 16 runs

Total: 457. Average: 91.4.

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