Hick edges his way forwards

Worcs 250 and 350-4 dec Gloucs 229 and 9-1
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When Graeme Hick stole 164 undefeated runs from the might of the Oxford student attack a month ago, some observers were ready to write him back into the international side. But the man himself was not fooled. In the harsher conditions of Championship cricket, he has been struggling. Although he will points to a sequence of "good catches and peach deliveries", he also admits that sometimes "you can't even remember how you used to play the game".

In 1991 Hick stroked his way to a thoroughly old-fashioned landmark - 1,000 first-class runs in May. But in 1997 it has taken until mid-June - and his first innings of the month - for him to creep past 100 in the Championship.

With the teams just 21 runs apart on the first innings, and Worcester's second knock barely under way yesterday morning, this had become a one- innings match over two days. It was not, however, designed for entertainment.

Hick was naturally in recuperative mode, and he was partnered by Tim Curtis. This county stalwart is enjoying a productive final season before devoting himself full-time to teaching English at Worcester Royal Grammar School, but Curtis has always seen his role simply as laying a solid foundation to the innings, however long it takes. No turnstile has ever rattled to the cry "Curtis is in!" Curtis and Hick slowly built the visitors' advantage yesterday against the Championship leaders.

Hick's dreadful form could have continued. He came out in the fifth over of the day to face the left-arm seamer Mike Smith, who is bowling productively this year. The fourth ball to Hick climbed, clipped the bat and flew sharply between keeper and slips for four, an unearned start to the recovery process.

Hick reached his century as he had started it, with a snick. This time a delivery from off-spinner Martyn Ball carried straight along the ground, just missing the stumps and Jack Russell on its way to the pavilion. It symbolised the fact that though this was an important ton for the batsman, it was rarely a commanding one. Hick's previous Championship hundred was made last September, against the same opposition.

Curtis bludgeoned 23 runs between lunch and tea on a pitch by now leeched of all life, and his third century of the season took seven minutes short of six hours. Both batsmen perished after tea - both out for 137.

The Worcestershire skipper Steve Rhodes was busy working out the declaration equation at this point, and called his men in when the second innings had strolled to 350, the lead to 371, and five overs remained to be bowled. The calculation bore fruit when Nick Trainor was out lbw without offering a stroke.