Atherton: Why I am backing Hick to fulfil his great expectations (6 December 1998)

6 December 1998

Atherton: Why I am backing Hick to fulfil his great expectations

By Michael Atherton

THERE are those cricketers who are loud and brash, easy to know, quick to please and to whom confidence is a fickle friend. Others are quieter, deeper almost, more knowing and yet no matter how long you play with them you can never say you quite know them. They carry their hopes and expectations within and rarely exhibit them for others to see.

Graeme Hick is of the second mould. Not easy to draw out of himself, problems tend to remain deep inside and confrontation is rare. I was in the manager's room at Trent Bridge in 1995 when Ray Illingworth accused him of being soft. He did not say much before slamming the door on the way out but, far more importantly, he then went out to score a Test match hundred the next day.

How nice it would be for him, and indeed for all of us, to go out to bat in a Test match much as Andrew Flintoff did last year, without an apparent care in the world. Oh to thrash an early one through the covers, mishook to the keeper and wander off as if you were still playing for St Annes in the Northern League.

Yet Graeme has been carrying the burden of other people's expectations, and his own no doubt, for seven years now. A hope that he can convert the volume of runs he churns out at New Road and the manner in which he scores them to the harsher climate of Test cricket.

The public perception is that so far it has been a Test career with more downs than ups. Expectation is part of the problem: scoring so many runs and hundreds before hitting a ball in Test cricket and being touted so widely as the saviour of English cricket is a heavy burden for any man to carry at any time.

Especially so for a cricketer and a man from a foreign land trying to fit into what is his adopted country. Yet Kepler Wessels showed over the years for Australia that it need not be an insurmountable problem, and so far Graeme has scored about 3,000 runs for England at an average of 35 - a record comparable with many players of a more successful reputation.

Indeed for much of the time I was captain Graeme was a key performer, averaging around 45 between 1993 and 1996. One theory would be that maybe he too felt he was an essential part of the plan and that security helped him function more successfully. Since suffering a bad summer against India and Pakistan in 1996 his selection has been far less secure, and his place always under threat.

Yet he has had to cope with the brickbats usually reserved for much lesser players. Performances alone cannot account for some of the vitriol poured his way. Indeed there was one utterly disgraceful piece of journalism last year from Michael Calvin. Unfortunately for him he plays in an era where how you say it is more important than what you say, or what you do. For he could not bring himself to lie on the ground, as Darren Gough did on dropping a catch last week, with his hat over his head, a huge grin on his face, maniacally waving to the Barmy Army.

In Perth he found himself unexpectedly playing in another Test match for England, his 50th, when he might instead have been organising his testimonial back in Worcester. Moreover, having not played since Bangladesh a month earlier it was not the easiest situation to find yourself in, Perth being the one wicket in the world where preparation is essential.

He walked out to bat in the second innings on a pair, and with his usually safe hands at second slip having previously reprieved the Australian captain early in his innings. He cut the first ball he received for four and went on to take the attack to the Australian bowlers, playing an innings of a cricketer with character.

Not being an emotive or off-the-cuff kind of player it would be difficult to envisage this was anything other than a pre-determined plan of attack. I think he thought that if this was to be his last Test innings of the tour, and if he was to be flying back home immediately after the match, then he would damn well go out there, enjoy it and give it a go.

Now that he is a fully fledged member of the tour party it would be foolish to abandon that policy. At a moment of need it worked for him, and it can do so again. More importantly, at this juncture, it can work.

Source :: Electronic Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk)

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