Hick revels in assault and flattery

FIFTH TEST: England's much-criticised batsman makes the most of undemanding bowling to score century England 440 West Indies 25-0
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"Brilliant Hick Hits Back At His Critics", it said on the Teletext headlines, conveniently ignoring the fact that Hick has rarely been accused of not being a high-class butcherer of cricket balls that are not making a high velocity beeline for his nostrils.

Before Hick qualified for England, the former New Zealand all-rounder John Bracewell described him as a "flat-track bully", a remark which turned out to be as prescient as it was unkind. Hick's 118 not out yesterday merely confirmed what everyone already knew, and if - as it surely must - it has cemented his place on this winter's tour to South Africa, the first cricketer to reach for the champagne yesterday might well have been Allan Donald.

Where Hick deserves unqualified praise, not least for lifting England to the dizzy heights of 440, is for the way he performed under intense pressure. The fact that most of the pressure was self imposed after his well publicised pre-match bleat to the chairman of selectors is neither here nor there. Illingworth probably told him to go out and imagine he was playing against a cricket writers' X1.

This was Hick's 83rd first- class century, but only his third for England in 36 Tests, further evidence of a man with a heavy overdraft, and long overdue a deposit. It was a century written in the tea leaves from the moment the West Indies' attack, already short of Curtly Ambrose, decided that this was not the sort of pitch on which to expend any unnecessary energy. Yesterday, they looked so disinterested that they did not so much need a mid-session drinks waiter as a deckchair attendant.

Hick had every reason to be nervous yesterday, not least when he was in the nineties. With Richard Illingworth unable to bat with a broken finger, he was down to his last two partners, and the last time he was in the nineties in a Test match - in Sydney last winter - his captain declared on him.

This so upset Hick that he declined to speak to Michael Atherton for a couple of days, although instances of Hick talking are so rare that Atherton may not have noticed. The inference placed upon having the rug pulled from under him on 98 not out was clear enough - and it was Illingworth's references to "weeding out the non- team men" before this match which helped push Hick into going public with the private grievances he has been nursing for the past five years.

Yesterday, though, as he breezed from 92 to 100 with two crisp boundaries, he looked up at the balcony to see his captain clapping his hands together rather than using them to wave him in. And not so long ago, the jubiliant, celebratory wave of the bat would have been the first recorded display of emotion ever witnessed by his team-mates.

However, the first came after his omission at Old Trafford, when he dampened his handkerchief after being left out of the side, but it was Hick's good fortune to be recalled for a match in which no-one was in any danger of damp underwear. Hick versus Rajindra Dhanraj on total featherbed was the equivalent of feeding truffles to a pig.

That he didn't totally burst his braces - taking almost five hours to reach three figures - was undoubtedly down to the pressure. To describe the bowling as unthreatening would be unwarranted flattery, and the lopsided contest against the leg-spinner was reflected in the fact that Hick made 46 from the 60 balls he faced from Dhanraj, including nine of his 17 boundaries.

Not all of the old ghosts were exorcised either. Early on yesterday, a short one from Walsh - with the second new ball still hard enough to climb towards the visor - resulted in that familiarly instinctive eyes closed hook, and as the ball rebounded off his shoulder, Hick almost fell on his stumps as he lost balance.

Otherwise, though, you could have balanced a Ming vase on his helmet without undue risk, and while a bat with enough wood in it to build a four-bedroom detached is often a liability against the short stuff, anything pitched up was clinically despatched across the parched outfield.

A big innings from Hick became as important for England as it was for him personally when they lost Craig White early on yesterday morning to slip to 239 for 5, and White's place in this team is once again in doubt after edging a near wide from Ian Bishop to the wicketkeeper.

Hick, though, then discovered an admirable partner in Jack Russell, who remains lovably eccentric off the field - forever scoffing bananas and drinking mugs of sweet tea - but has remodelled a batting style that is now marginally closer to the MCC's handbook than the AA's. Russell's 35, Mike Watkinson's 24, and Dominic Cork's 31 helped Hick add 201 for the sixth, seventh and eighth wickets before Angus Fraser's first ball dismissal ended the innings half an hour after tea.

Well though England's batsmen played, the West Indies performed with little purpose, and their captain, Richie Richardson, was off the field for most of the final two sessions with a calf strain. He will have to have a broken leg to miss out on this pitch, always assuming he gets in, and if Brian Lara is in the mood, the electronic scoreboard might not survive the match on the same set of fuses.

Henry Blofeld and Tony Cozier on the Test match, page 23


(England won toss)

ENGLAND -First Innings

(Overnight: 227 for 4)

R K Illingworth retired hurt 8

(40 min, 28 balls)

G A Hick not out 118

(305 min, 213 balls, 17 fours)

C White c Browne b Bishop 1

(29 min, 13 balls)

R C Russell c Browne b Bishop 35

(114 min, 76 balls, 4 fours)

M Watkinson lbw b Benjamin 24

(65 min, 40 balls, 4 fours)

D G Cork c Browne b Benjamin 31

(61 min, 48 balls, 4 fours)

A R C Fraser b Benjamin 0

(1 min, 1 ball)

Extras (b4, lb8, nb8) 20

Total (656 min, 152.4 overs) 440

Fall (cont): 5-239 (White), 6-323 (Russell), 7-380 (Watkinson), 8-440 (Cork), 9-440 (Fraser).

Bowling: Walsh 39-5-93-0 (nb4) (9-2-19-0, 6-2-9-0, 18-1-48-0, 6-0-17- 0); Bishop 30.1-6-62-3 (nb6) (6-3-12-0, 6-2-12-0, 12-0-24-2, 5-1-12-1, 1.1-0-2-0); Benjamin 34.3-7-105-5 (8-5-11-0, 10-2-25-2, 7-0-24-0, 7-0- 33-1, 2.3-0-12-2); Dhanraj 40-7-137-0 (17-2-51-0, 7-0-26-0, 14-4-56-0, 2-1-4-0); Arthurton 9-0-31-0 (1-0-1-0, 3-0-7-0, 2-0-5-0 3-0-18-0).

Progress: 250: 431 mins, 101.2 overs. 300: 494 mins, 117.3 overs. Lunch: 307-5 (Hick 51, Russell 29) 119 overs. 350: 557 mins, 131.4 overs. 400: 608 mins, 142.2 overs. Tea: 406-7 (Hick 105, Cork 10) 146 overs. Innings closed: 4.34pm.

Hick 50: 145 mins, 116 balls, 6 fours. 100: 257 mins, 183 balls, 15 fours.

WEST INDIES - First Innings

S C Williams not out 16

(77 min, 62 balls, 3 fours)

S L Campbell not out 8

(77 min, 53 ball)

Extras (nb1) 1

Total (for 0, 77 min, 19 overs) 25

To bat: B C Lara, *R B Richardson, K L T Arthurton, S Chanderpaul, C O Browne, I R Bishop, R Dhanraj, K C G Benjamin, C A Walsh.

Bowling: Fraser 6-4-9-0 (one spell); Cork 8-2-16-0 (nb1) (4-0-13-0, 4- 2-3-0); Watkinson 5-5-0-0 (one spell).

Umpires: C J Mitchley (SA) and N T Plews.

TV Umpire: G Sharp.

Match referee: J R Reid.