Hick's departure confirms England's incompetence : Cricket

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As Graham Hick yesterday became the seventh England cricketer to be invalided home from Australia, England's tour management also revealed themselves to be a bodily disaster in as much as they do not appear to know their backside from their elbow.

Three days after Hick's back seized up (not for the first time on tour) in Bendigo, Keith Fletcher, the tour manager, was still claiming that it was nothing more than stiff. This was completely at odds with the opinion of the physiotherapist, Dave Roberts, who described the condition as "chronic", and Roberts' fears were confirmed by two specialists on the night before the fourth Test match.

Fletcher's initial claim that Hick's X-rays had not shown anything serious looked a total nonsense yesterday evening when he was forced to concede that they had indeed revealed a serious condition - a herniated disc - and it may be as much as three months before Hick is able to hold a bat again.

At 1pm yesterday, Fletcher said that no decision would be taken on Hick playing in the Test until the morning of the match, and at 8pm Fletcher announced that Hick would be going home "at the first available opportunity". A surgeon in Adelaide, and the Worcestershire surgeon John Davies, who treated Ian Botham's back, have both said that Hick needs a substantial period of rest, and long spells in traction.

Compared to England's management, the Emperor Nero was an instant decision-maker. Three days ago, when Alec Stewart was nursing a crushed finger, and Hick was flat out on his back in the dressing-room, the management did precisely nothing. Yesterday, they rushed Chris Lewis, who has already been co-opted for one World Series match before being released back to his club side in Melbourne, straight into the Test team and announced that Mark Ramprakash would be arriving tomorrow from the A tour in India.

"The good news," Fletcher said yesterday, "is that Chris Lewis has arrived," which just about takes the biscuit if this is what now qualifies as good news. Seven players have now been (or are about to be) repatriated: McCague, White, Udal, Gough, Stewart, Hick and Fairbrother, and six have been summoned to a tour they were not originally selected for. Fairbrother, Fraser, Illott, Russell, Lewis and Ramprakash. If and when Ramprakash takes the field, he will be the 22nd player used on tour, 23rd if you i ncluded the emergency spell of fielding by the physio in Toowoomba.

Hick's absence comes at a particularly bad time, with two batsmen (Gooch and Gatting) out of form and Hick having made a total of 1,314 runs in all cricket on the tour at an average of around 50. Only Atherton, who seems to thrive when the chips are down, has looked more reliable.

If the full extent of Hick's injury was not known until last night, it beggars belief. If it was, then for reasons best known to themselves, the management decided that they would put out a conflicting message. It might, therefore, be time for Fletcher and MJK Smith (if anyone can find him) to consider whether they might also book themselves an early flight home.