Vintage Hick reaping benefits of tinkering

Worcestershire 373-8 v Warwickshire
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The Independent Online

Given that it is 18 years since he first topped 2,000 runs in a season it could be seen as surprising that Graeme Hick, his last Test more than three years ago, is still bothered about playing cricket, let alone thinking about ways to improve, when other players - indeed former England captains - junior to him in years are thinking about retirement.

Given that it is 18 years since he first topped 2,000 runs in a season it could be seen as surprising that Graeme Hick, his last Test more than three years ago, is still bothered about playing cricket, let alone thinking about ways to improve, when other players - indeed former England captains - junior to him in years are thinking about retirement.

How do you improve on a career nudging towards 37,000 first-class runs? With difficulty is the obvious answer. Yet Hick, 38 last Sunday, is giving that proposition a fair crack. Dismayed to have added a paltry (by his standards) 670 to his aggregate last summer, he spent the winter in analysis - of video tapes, that is, not his psyche - and the results have been startling.

Yesterday, in conditions where no one could accuse him of being a flat-track bully, Hick passed his 2003 total in only his ninth innings.

Having gone into this match on the back of consecutive double hundreds, Worcestershire's most famous adopted son added 158, his tally for a still fledgling summer now 801.

It is 16 years since anyone completed 1,000 first-class runs before 1 June, the last being Hick himself. With only the second innings of this match - if, indeed, it is necessary - to come it is unlikely he will match that feat, although to have gone so close to his glorious standards of 1988, the year of his unbeaten 405 at Taunton, is quite something.

He puts it down to some fairly simple tinkering, having reverted to standing tall in the crease, bat held up, as he did in the early part of his career. How well it served him yesterday, until an error not of technique but judgement let him down.

Frustratingly, too, it seemed that it was his team-mate Andy Bichel's judgement, the Australian risking a second to mid-wicket off Ian Bell only for Neil Carter to hit the stumps at the non-striker's end with a direct hit. Hick himself had been virtually flawless, hitting 24 fours, even profiting from a mistake when an attempt to pull Carter soared off the top edge for six.

His exit, therefore, was a disappointment, although Worcestershire could not complain too bitterly about their return for batting first. Ben Smith, with whom Hick shared a county record-breaking stand of 417 against Gloucestershire last time out, helped to put on 141 for the third wicket yesterday, around which Worcestershire gathered four batting points.

It might have been more but for an untrustworthy, up and down pitch. Stephen Peters will testify to that, having survived a shooter only to succumb to a lifter from the next ball. He was a maiden first-class victim for the 20-year-old seamer Naqaash Tahir, making his debut in place of an injured Dewald Pretorius. Bell and Dougie Brown were the best bowlers, deservedly picking up two wickets each.

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