Cricket: Hick's Test failures catch up with him

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S selectors yesterday acknowledged that 11 places in a cricket team is not enough to accommodate a specialist slip catcher, and for the second time in the two summers since his qualification, Graeme Hick has not survived for the full five-Test series.

In terms of their reluctance to drop a player who has clung on to no fewer than 18 slip catches in eight home Tests, the selectors have also had hands like flypaper. Last year, Hick cobbled together 75 runs from his seven innings against the West Indies before the guillotine descended, and since his 51 in his first outing this time, he has made only 47 runs from his last four innings.

There is a limit, even for someone as talented as Hick. He is such an enigma that he will doubtless spend the fifth Test murdering moderate bowling in a county match. Of his 66 first- class centuries, Hick has made 13 against the combined attacks of Glamorgan and Somerset, and bowling does not come much more moderate than that.

In one of those innings he made a century four times, but the commemorative 405 that adorns the front of his blade amounts to 98 runs less than he has mustered from 17 visits to the crease in 11 Test matches. He will probably go to India this winter, but it is by no means a certainty.

From the 13 chosen for Headingley, England have omitted Hick, Phil Newport and John Childs, and (for a 12-man squad this time) have brought in Devon Malcolm and Philip Tufnell. The option of a second spinner has been dismissed, so there is no place for Ian Salisbury.

Malcolm's inclusion was guaranteed once the Leicestershire fast bowler David Millns had ruled himself out through injury. Malcolm's landing area might have less in common with an old sixpence than a Jumbo approaching Heathrow, but genuine pace is as important at The Oval as accuracy was at Headingley.

Tufnell's return to the side was also a certainty once he had proved his rehabilitation after an emergency appendix operation. He remains something of a misfit in a regime that prefers to embrace the super-keen milk monitor type, rather than someone who appears to be about to nip behind the bikesheds for a crafty fag, but match-winning spin bowlers are so thin on the ground that they demand selection.

On his last appearance at The Oval, Tufnell effectively won the match that squared the series with a spell of six wickets for four runs in 33 balls. No batsmen are quite as proficient in the art of committing suicide as the West Indians, but Tufnell's teasing flight had a lot to do with it, and there are one or two Pakistanis whose qualities do not include a high boredom threshold.

Whether or not Salisbury's wrist spin would have provided an ideal complement to Tufnell, we will not now know, and it is very difficult to see why both Derek Pringle and Tim Munton are in the 12. Phillip DeFreitas would have added variety, but his groin strain was clearly considered too high a risk despite his return for Lancashire in the Roses match this weekend.

If England were better stocked in the all-rounder department (and Ian Botham's exclusion points ever more poignantly to the end of an era) then Chris Lewis might consider himself fortunate to be retained. Lewis oscillates so unpredictably between the lethal and the lethargic that no one really knows what makes him tick. He ought to be told before this game that a winter tour place is far from guaranteed.

Allan Lamb can certainly start making alternative winter plans. He is in form, and his uncomplicated method, based on a good eye and violence off the back foot, is ideally suited to The Oval. However, it is rumoured that England's hierarchy are not keen to have both Lamb and David Gower on the same aeroplane (747 as opposed to Tiger Moth) and Lamb has not been given the chance to demand a seat.

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