'Australia are too strong over a five-Test series'
When he came to England more than two decades ago, Graeme Hick was touted as the next great batsman. And though he established himself as a run-titan at county level, the step up to the international stage was a struggle. He became an integral member of England's one-day side as the years passed, but didn't do himself justice in Tests. Having long since slipped off the selectors' radar, Hick continues to give yeoman service to Worcestershire. In an exclusive interview, he talks about what keeps him going, and England's prospects of regaining the Ashes.
You're about to enter your 21st season of first-class cricket. How do you keep yourself motivated for so long?
Well, there certainly can't be too many of my contemporaries left! But at the end of each year I reassess, and if I feel like I'm still contributing and performing okay, I'll try to make a decision to carry on. At the moment I'm still enjoying the game, and at the end of last season, I was quickly geared towards this next one. I've done my training and I still get a lot of pleasure out of playing. I'm looking forward to getting stuck in.
You've now amassed 126 first-class centuries, and moved into the top ten on the all-time list. Is that something that drives you onwards?
Not really, no. Obviously, the higher I get the better, but it's not a huge incentive. If I'm playing good cricket then that sort of thing will take care of itself. It's much more important that my contributions are beneficial to Worcestershire's success.
How does the modern standard of county cricket compare to the game that you first encountered in the 1980s?
There's not too much between the game now and what it was then, but if anything the standard is higher, especially in the first division. Because of the three-up, three-down promotion-and-relegation system, the table chopped around very quickly at the very end of last season, and it certainly makes you focus a lot more and maintain that intensity in your performances. In the final weeks, Worcestershire slipped almost from the very top of the table to the bottom three, and so we were relegated. For a side to stay in the top division continually would be a very impressive achievement - there is currently a steady flow backwards and forwards.
This season, the Ashes doesn't start until July. Will that give county cricket a rare opportunity to showcase itself?
For the last couple of summers, the England side has been performing well at home, which is great for our game. But the one thing that is particularly enjoyable is that, because England are doing well, the media have stopped slagging the county game off. So we can only hope that the Ashes will be a well-fought contest. Other than that, the biggest bonus for county cricket has been the introduction of Twenty20 cricket, which has been a huge success in generating interest.
I never regret leaving Zimbabwe - you move on from things like that
Realistically, do you think it can be a close Ashes contest?
I still think Australia are very strong indeed. England will have to play outstandingly well for five Tests to beat them. That's the benchmark that the Aussies are setting at the moment - everyone knows they've got to perform in every session of every match to beat them. England have been aspiring to that level for the last few years, but if you ask me to answer with my heart, I'd love England to win, but with my head I think Australia are too strong over a five-Test series.
One of the big talking points will be Kevin Pietersen's arrival. Do
you see any parallels with your England debut?
I haven't seen a lot of him yet, to be honest. Unfortunately I was away this winter, so I didn't catch the one-day series. What he's done so far has obviously been a great start for him and stands him in good stead in terms of his confidence. But we'll have to wait and see what the selectors do with him, as they decide what stage they bring him in.
He's made a great start in one-day cricket, but could someone like Glenn McGrath expose him in Tests?
He has to play Test cricket with the same level of confidence, even if he's unable to play with the same freedom. It'll be an interesting contest. The Australians have obviously earmarked him as someone they want to get on top of early on, and put him under as much pressure as possible. That's what Test cricket is all about. It's up to him to carry on playing as comfortably as he has done all winter. It'll be interesting to see how it pans out.
Clearly, your home these days is Worcestershire, but do you ever look
back on the situation in Zimbabwe?
Nah, not at all. I never regret leaving Zimbabwe - you move on from things like that. My mum and dad are still out there, so I keep in touch, although my sister's now moved to live in South Africa.
There's been a lot of speculation about Tom Moody's role at the club. Do you see yourself stepping into his shoes as coach?
I'll cross that bridge when I've finished playing. I really don't know yet.
Some of the great run-scorers in English cricket - Jack Hobbs, Frank Woolley - played on into their mid-forties. Could you see yourself sticking it out that long?
Mid-forties, definitely not! If I'm lucky, I may be able to play on until I'm 40, but I doubt I'll go on much beyond that!