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September 26, 2013
Graeme Hick believes shifting the mindset of Australia's young batsmen away from a Twenty20 focus and back towards long, patient first-class innings will be key to his new role within the Australian setup. On Wednesday, Hick was named as the full-time replacement for Stuart Law as high performance coach at the Centre of Excellence, where he will oversee the creation of a national batting programme.
Although Hick will largely work with Under-19 and Under-17 squads, he will also mentor the annual intake of Centre of Excellence scholars, which often includes batsmen on the fringes of national selection. It is with those men that Hick will need to instil a patient approach, given the lack of big scores and competition run tallies coming from Sheffield Shield batsmen over the past few seasons.
Last summer, the only batsmen to score three Shield hundreds were the veterans Ricky Ponting and Chris Rogers, while the only others to make two tons were Test players Phillip Hughes and Brad Haddin, and the promising young duo of Joe Burns and Jordan Silk. Precisely what has been ailing Australia's first-class batsmen has been a matter of debate for several years, but Hick believes the first thing to address is the desire to play long, dour innings instead of short, electrifying ones.
"I think there is a little shift in the mindset more towards Twenty20 and the one-day game and the faster forms of the game," Hick told ESPNcricinfo. "I don't know if they're not willing, but players don't seem to be spending as much time at the crease in the four-day games. We're not seeing as many big scores as we used to. That's something I need to have a look at and hopefully I can make a difference.
"In England I think maybe the younger players come through in the first-class system and play more four-day cricket. They've got more fixtures. Here you get your 10 Shield games and that's it, so that may have a little bit to do with it. I just think in general, everyone is wanting everything to happen a lot quicker."
If patience is the aim, Australia could hardly have chosen a more fitting mentor than Hick. Over a 25-year first-class career he scored 41,112 runs, placing him 15th on the all-time tally, and he is one of only eight men in history to score a quadruple-century in first-class cricket, his unbeaten 405 for Worcestershire against Somerset in 1988.
No living player has scored more first-class triple-centuries than the three made by Hick, and Mark Ramprakash is the only man alive to have made more first-class double-hundreds (17) than Hick's 16. Long innings came naturally to Hick and although he fell short of becoming a great Test player, he was unquestionably one of first-class cricket's finest batsmen of all time.
The struggle for Australia's batsmen to play for time has been evident not only in Shield cricket but in the Test team over the past few years. No Australian has scored a Test double-century away from home since Jason Gillespie's 201 against Bangladesh in 2006, and in this year's Ashes, Chris Rogers was the only Australian in the top five batsmen of the series based on balls faced.
"I think it's maybe just educating them on the decisions they're making during their innings," Hick said. "You can certainly play both [short and long formats] quite comfortably, it's just the decisions you choose to make during your innings. When you're approaching 30s and 40s it's about making sure you carry on.
"That was highlighted in this Ashes series and maybe the difference in the result was that England had the bigger innings. I'm not saying those players can't do it, they maybe just need to look at their decision-making when they're out there."
Although Hick will not be directly working with the national team - coach Darren Lehmann and batting coach Michael di Venuto remain in charge there - he will be charged with implementing a national batting programme that will be discussed by former players and current coaches at a forum in Sydney next month. Hick's primary task is to help the new batch of young Australian batsmen and in that regard, he is still preparing to play the long game.
"That's very exciting for me," he said. "If I'm able to be sitting and watching a Test match in five or ten years and realise that I've had quite a big influence on some of the players walking out on the park, that will be great. If that is the case I'll feel very proud of it, but at the end of the day you can only guide them and they have to do the hard work."
Although he is now officially in the Australian camp, Hick believes England's batting depth will hold them in good stead for the upcoming Ashes in Australia, given their 3-0 victory in England in a series in which only a couple of their key men were at their best.
"I'm a little bit surprised by one or two of the comments that have come out from the Australian team, because at the end of the day England scored more runs and won the series 3-0," Hick said. "That was without all their batsmen firing. There might be a bit of banter going around pre-Ashes, sowing a few seeds there. Cook, Pietersen and Trott didn't really fire - KP scored the one hundred but he wasn't at his best. That could be worrying for Australia."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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