The youthful club cricketers of Hertfordshire could have been excused the odd palpitation or two when the realisation sank in that the reward for squeezing past the Durham Board XI in round two of the Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy would be an appointment with Graeme Hick.
They might have won some sympathy, even, had they been less than thorough in their preparation of the pitch, which was the complaint levelled by Ian Botham and Viv Richards when a Somerset side suffered a narrow escape at St Albans in the mid-1980s. Hertfordshire, in fact, are the proud possessors of two first-class scalps in this competition, those of Essex at Hitchin in 1976 and Derbyshire at Bishop's Stortford, in a bowl-out, in 1991.
In the event, the modern game's most destructive batsman could hardly have enjoyed a more generous welcome. The sun shone, the hospitality was warm and Hertford Cricket Club's wicket might well be as good as any he will encounter this season. The former England man needed no second invitation, bullying the minor county's bevy of medium pacers with a display of typically self-centred ruthlessness.
Hick's addiction to scoring easy runs is clearly undiminished and the ring of trees surrounding this pretty, compact ground must have seemed merely a series of targets for his heavy bat.
In just over two hours, Hick peppered them to the tune of 155 runs, with 18 fours and five sixes, reaching a memorable crescendo against Ben Frazer, Hertfordshire's unfortunate off-spinner, whom he hit for six-four-four-six-four in the same over before being bowled attempting to deal the last delivery a similar fate.
Frazer, who has been playing second XI cricket for Middlesex, celebrated his success as he was well entitled to do as Hertfordshire's best bowler, undeserving of the analysis shaped by Hick's final assault. It was he who had broken Worcestershire's second-wicket partnership, worth 186 in 25 overs, by dismissing Anurag Singh for 79.
The senior county made their highest 50-over total, despite the absence of three senior batsmen. Their total of 336 left Hertfordshire facing a task for which mission impossible was an inadequate description, particularly since their one player of professional experience, the former Surrey batsman David Ward, was clubbing Shane Warne to all parts for MCC at Arundel.
Hertfordshire made such a poor start that when Andy Bichel, another Australian, took two wickets in two balls in his third over, leaving them on 11 for 4, record winning margins and lowest competition scores were being discussed. Both those records remained intact, although another fell, Worcestershire wicketkeeper James Pipe's gloves surpassing Alec Stewart's competition record of seven against Somerset in 1994.
For a reserve, deputising for the injured Steve Rhodes, this was an extraordinary feat, arguably more deserving of the man-of-the-match award Hick won for what for him was routine business.Reuse content