Cricket: Letter from Oz - Hick's straight and narrow route to glory

England hold few of the records in one-day international cricket. This is partly because they have played so little of it lately (in total, fewer than all but South Africa and Zimbabwe of the senior nations), partly because when they have played they have not been resoundingly good at it.

But Graeme Hick's remarkable run in the Carlton & United Series was right up there. Consecutive innings of 108, 66 not out, 126no and 109 not only steadied England's middle order but put his average above 40. Of England batsmen only Nick Knight, Graham Thorpe and Chris Broad have managed that and none of them approach Hick's 83 matches.

His sequence was brought to an end when he padded up against Sri Lanka in Perth on Friday and was given out lbw for 10. Thus, a slight misjudgement against Chaminda Vaas' inswinger denied him the opportunity of joining the Pakistani batsmen Zaheer Abbas and Saeed Anwar as the only players to have scored three consecutive hundreds (Anwar's coming in four days).

Nineteen other players have made two in a row of whom Dean Jones and Nick Knight did so on successive days.

Hick remains well down the order of all limited-overs international run scorers. He is still 56 runs short of 3,000. Desmond Haynes and Mohammad Azharuddin have both made more than 8,000. Graham Gooch remains England's leading scorer with 4,290.

Hick should overtake that if he continues in his present vein, which may be down to practising with a narrow bat. It is not quite as lean as the stump with which Don Bradman played as a boy but it must help in middling the ball with a wider one. "I suppose it does," said Hick, "but then you might nick those you would otherwise have missed."

THE best-selling sports book of all time is Dickie Bird's autobiography as the celebrated former umpire still reminds anybody in earshot. Decision Maker by Darrell Hair may never achieve such heights but its cause has not been hindered by the throwing events in Australia this past week.

Hair's opening chapter retells the story of how and why he called Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing in a Test match on Sri Lanka's tour of Australia three years ago. During the course of this, Hair describes the off-spinner's action as diabolical, which was sufficient for the Australian Board to suggest that he did not stand in the present triangular tournament. Hair has subsequently been charged by the ICC.

All this has been a boon for sales and when Murali was called again last week by Ross Emerson it helped some more. "It has been going remarkably steadily since early December," said a spokesman for the publishers Random House. "We're very pleased and all the controversy over throwing helps. We had 10,000 printed originally in hard back and they're still going out."

Hair spends most of the opening chapter justifying his stance on Murali but one sentence, when he is describing the aftermath, stands out. "It was obvious I was alone in my view and would receive no support from the Sri Lankan officials or the match umpire." If he was alone did he ever think he might, therefore, be wrong?

THERE have been several naughty boys in Australian cricket this winter. Shane Warne and Mark Waugh, it was revealed, had taken cash gifts from an Indian bookmaker for revealing pitch information a few seasons back. They were forced to appear at an inquiry but Warne was subsequently made captain and Waugh vice-captain of the one-day side.

Arjuna Ranatunga prodded an umpire in the chest, among other cricketing crimes, and received a fine and a suspended ban. Ricky Ponting got drunk in a nightclub and was banned for three matches and fined A$5,000 (pounds 2,000).

There is immense sympathy in the country for the popular and extremely affable Ponting. Someone, somewhere, it is suspected, has their priorities awry. There has been an extremely apologetic comment from Ponting. "I still go out for a few beers now and then but it is only a few. I don't overdo it as I have sometimes in the past. It was a very unhappy experience but one which you make sure never happens again."

Mind you, he said that in his recently published book Punter (everybody who has played a couple of times for Australia has a recently published book here) about an earlier nightclub incident in India.

IT is difficult bordering on impossible to avoid the subject of chucking. Quite simply, it is thrown up wherever you go in this country. Premeditation is the word constantly hurled around.

But this may apply to both sides. If there is some evidence to suggest that some Australian umpire or other had always intended to no-ball Muttiah Muralitharan there is similar testimony about what might be the Sri Lankan reaction. In the latest edition of the Australian cricket magazine Inside Edge, the Sri Lankan former batsman Asanka Gurusinha says in an interview given several weeks ago that if Murali were to be called: "They might just say `we're not playing any more' and just go back home. I think that might be their first option, or even fighting it legally." Fighting it legally is precisely what they did.

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