A Worcester Institution

Graeme Hick plays forward during his 100th century for his county. Worcestershire v Northamptonshire, Worcester, June 2006.

The impending retirement of Graeme Hick is more significant to me than most, as, in the very dim and distant past (it must have been 1984), I latched on to Hick's name. He kept making huge scores for Worcestershire seconds and I thought he might turn out to be a useful player. From then on I kept an unusually close eye on his career, getting in touch with his parents about his early cricket and following his progress innings by innings.

Like someone who's genuinely mad I can still dash off the highlights of those years without going near a Wisden: 230 and 192 in successive innings for Zimbabwe in England in '85, the double centuries for Worcestershire in '86, a thousand before the end of May (including the 405) in '88, a largely unbroken upward curve all the way to the England debut in 1991. From there, of course, things were never quite the same, but, for me, there were always plenty of highlights, some of which I even managed to see in person. The most memorable of these was probably his hundredth century for Worcestershire in 2006; a freezing June day at Worcester, a moderate Northants attack and utter domination, with one stroke living especially keenly in the memory. I'm not sure of the bowler, but I'll take a punt on Ben Phillips. He dropped a fraction short and Hick, as he'd done a million times before, simply stood tall and hit the ball back past him for four with a stroke of rare dismissiveness and command.

This though, was the problem with Hick; at his best (say late eighties, at Worcester) he could achieve a level of dominance and intimidation which few batsmen from anywhere in the world have managed in the last thirty years, but it was all underwritten by a current of personal diffidence which undermined him fatally when it came to the pressure-cooker of Test cricket.

For all the coruscating innings there were technical weaknesses too; a certain stiffness of movement, often an inability to respond to the moving ball, especially at the highest level. I think it was John Bracewell who originally coined the term 'flat-track bully' to describe Hick and, in retrospect, he had something.

This said, I've always tended towards the view that if Hick had been able to play Test cricket when he was at his youngest and most fearless (between 1984 and 1990), he would have achieved much more. A lot of people have pointed to the time Atherton declared on him at Sydney, but, in truth, his early veneer of impregnability had gone by then; the likes of Ambrose, Waqar and Hughes had shown the way to see him off and he was always playing catch-up from then on. He did better in the one-day game, but his overall international statistics must always be regarded as disappointing for a player with his level of ability and potential.

At Worcester, though, he was an institution. Visits there will never quite be the same again.

If you get the chance to see him play between now and the end of the season, take it.


Unknown said...

What a player. I also gave him a tribute on my blog but yours is more extensive. That 1988 season is one to remember; i wasn't alive but i know that the runs he scored will be hard to match for anyone in the future (over 2,500??). To play for two countries was also pretty impressive. Good luck to him coaching cricket over at Malvern College next year!

Brian Carpenter said...

Many thanks for the comment. It's difficult now to imagine what Hick's stature in the game was like between roughly 1986 and 1990 - he was regarded as something of a 'new Bradman' by a lot of people, including many opponents. With hindsight you can see why it didn't quite work out - he did have temperamental and technical weaknesses which were exposed at Test level - but he's still a player who anyone who's lived through his career will always remember.

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