Hick is found out

Cricket: Stephen Brenkley at Headingley sees batsmen fall foul of their own ineptness
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IF THERE was any consolation for England on the third day of the first Test it lay largely in establishing that they do not hold exclusive rights on incompetent batting. The big trouble was that they had time to parade their ineptness twice, just in case anybody thought it was beyond belief the first time.

The scores from Leeds would appear to indicate that the pitch, despite soothing assurances, was still behaving like an old dog in refusing to be taught new tricks.

But, like many an old bowler, it has been getting wickets by reputation rather than actual threat. By Headingley standards - and considering the groundsmen's nightmare start to the summer by any standards - this has looked the sort of surface that batsmen might want to roll up and carry round with them. Instead, they have tended to roll over and get out, and the West Indies were no slouches in pursuing England to the changing-room yesterday.

They began the day with a huge advantage (7-2 on with the bookmakers) and after spending 20 minutes trying to bed themselves in once more were almost willy-nilly, or indeed English, in their approach to the job. All the time you knew it was very likely that the Headingley strip would be in for it again.

Yet hardly a ball misbehaved: the bounce was all but uniform, as was the movement, but the shot selection might have been orchestrated by Kermit the Frog.

Maybe the cold was to blame. But it has been recorded that when Graham Gooch made his unforgettable, glorious century on this ground against the same opposition four years ago, it was during the coldest weather for Test cricket since records were kept. The record keepers may care to check back to 1991 to discover if this has been overtaken.

After the West Indies had contrived all manner of injudiciousness (their last recognised batsman, Keith Arthurton, was probably top on the culpability scale for chasing so unerringly after a wide one), England could have taken stock. They did not. Robin Smith might have demonstrated that opening the batting in Test matches is a specialist task and not one for which God equipped him, but his firm smack to cover was surpassed by Graeme Hick.

When Gooch was bestriding this place so majestically, Hick was to be the new saviour of English cricket. The match in which Gooch left his indelible mark was Hick's debut. He was considered then to be a rare batting commodity, one who by now would be playing that kind of domineering innings.

The rocky series which followed his first appearance led to a long, uphill struggle to adjust to Test cricket, but it has seemed at last to be worthwhile. His average for England may still be hovering only around the 35 mark, but he gets on everybody's team-sheet these days.

West Indian bowlers tried to work him over a touch yesterday as of yore, given that the rules do not now allow much of this. Hick responded admirably. The nervous bobbing, weaving and tottering of 1991 gave way to a couple of firm swivels and whacks through the on side. "Take that, big boys," he seemed to be saying. The big boys took it.

In view of his intentions, they also gave themselves the routine insurance of posting a long leg. Not that they can have thought there was much chance of a player of Hick's calibre falling for that one. Otherwise, captaincy would not be the multi-fangled job it is counted as. Ian Bishop duly put one in short, Hick moved into line, played the hook a trifle too late and it looped high and hard in the air to Courtney Walsh.

Bishop beat the ground in celebration (and we had better become accustomed to seeing that little scene enacted this summer), but he might have been doing it in disbelief. Hick is too established and should be considered much too classy an act these days to be out by that sort of error. Indeed, no Test batsman would be happy about falling in such an elementary way.

A look would have told him. There was no blaming the pitch for it.