September 3, 2008

An embodiment of county cricket

A tribute to Graeme Hick, who has announced his retirement in his 25th year in county cricket

"One day I'll just get out of bed and come down to the ground and think 'I've had enough'. Whether that comes in July, August, September or while in a gym in October, who knows, but I've always hoped that's the way it will happen."

Top Curve
Graeme Hick: Run machine

  • As a 22 year-old, Hick made 1000 runs in the 1988 season before the end of May, including an unbeaten 405 against Somerset
  • He hit three half-centuries in the 1992 World Cup to help England reach the final
  • Hick topped England's batting and bowling averages on the tour of India in 1992-93, scoring his maiden Test hundred. He averaged 46.44 in Tests between 1992-1995
  • He became the 24th batsman to make 100 hundreds when he scored his second century of the match against Sussex at New Road in 1998.
  • In a tri-series against Australia and Sri Lanka in 1998-99, Hick made over 500 runs - including scores of 108, 66*, 126* and 109 in successive innings - and was England's Man of the Series
  • In 2001 Hick scored 200* against Durham, completing the set of first-class hundreds against all other 17 counties, both home and away
  • In 2008 Hick became the second most prolific run-scorer in all cricket (first-class and limited-overs combined), with more than 64,000 runs to his name
  • Hick's tally of 136 first-class hundreds ranks eighth on the all-time list

Bottom Curve

That was Graeme Hick on the eve of his 40th birthday, two years and three seasons ago, and his prophecy has proven to be spot-on. Aside from a niggling elbow injury that has hindered his participation this summer, there was no obvious sign that the end - finally - was nigh. Had Hick taken guard for one more season in 2009, no-one would have been the slightest bit taken aback, except perhaps the county bowlers who must now be breathing a wistful sigh of relief that their 25-year sentence has been lifted.

There is still the best part of a month of the 2008 season remaining, and with Worcestershire sitting at the top of the second division of the Championship, Hick has the chance to sign off with a measure of the glory that his lengthy service deserves. But win or lose, he will soon be gone, and while those whose judgment derives solely from feats achieved at the highest echelons will size up his Test record and shrug, countless others will rightly mourn the passing of one of the gentle giants of the game.

More than any other cricketer, Graeme Hick has come to embody - for better and for worse - the fading magnificence of county cricket, a version of the game that has existed since the early 1800s but whose relevance in this 100mph world of Twenty20 cricket seems to face new questions on a daily basis. But those that live fast, die young, and leave little for the memories. Hick chose instead to slow down and endure - like a stately galleon, he proved ill-equipped for the iron-clad warfare of modern Test cricket, but his billowing sails patrolled the calmer waters of the shires for a full quarter of a century.

Does it matter that he was found wanting at the very highest level? Of course it does, and doubtless retirement will afford him plenty of time to dwell on the moments that might have made a difference. If only he could have adopted a less cluttered mindset when facing Curtly Ambrose during that traumatic debut series in 1991. If only he could have read the match situation better at Sydney in 1994-95, and hustled to his hundred instead of compelling Mike Atherton to leave him high and dry on 98 not out.

If only the security of the central contract system had arrived ten years earlier, and bonded him to a team ethic that was palpably lacking for much of his piecemeal international career. Whatever the reasons for his shortcomings, the limelight never suited him. Instead the definitive period of Hick's career was not his turbulent decade in and out of the England team, but the 15 languidly brilliant years at New Road that bookended his time at the top. His six Test hundreds are mementoes he'll doubtless treasure, but for his county he scored no fewer than 106 - out of a grand total of 136 that places him eighth on the all-time list of first-class century-makers.

That list, however, is already a living anachronism. Mark Ramprakash, whose career mirrors Hick's in so many ways (and whose England debut came in the same Headingley Test in 1991) became the 25th man to reach 100 hundreds earlier this season, but the chances of anyone ever emulating that feat are as good as non-existent. From WG Grace through Frank Woolley to Geoff Boycott and Graham Gooch, there once was a common narrative to the game of cricket. All that is changing at a frightening pace, and the notions of love and loyalty that sustained Hick throughout his Worcestershire career are fast being replaced by the quest for a quick buck.

And perhaps, tragically, that fate has also been forced upon Hick himself, because as he conceded in a tearful farewell to the media, the prospect of him signing for the rebel Indian Cricket League has not been entirely ruled out. At the age of 42, but with the fitness of a man half his age, who could begrudge him the chance to secure a nest egg for retirement, especially in a form of the game for which his bold strokes might have been invented? But in the light of the woes that befell Kent this season, there's no alternative but for a complete severing of Hick's cricketing umbilical cord.

But those that live fast, die young, and leave little for the memories. Hick chose instead to slow down and endure - like a stately galleon, he proved ill-equipped for the iron-clad warfare of modern Test cricket, but his billowing sails patrolled the calmer waters of the shires for a full quarter of a century.

That means tearing himself away from Worcestershire, the one team to which Hick truly belonged during his days as a professional in his adopted country. With its bucolic river-frontage and cathedral backdrop, it's not hard to understand why Hick, the modest son of a Rhodesian tobacco farmer, felt at peace in such surroundings, and he repaid them with the finest days of his life. The bright lights were never his scene - except, perversely, for the occasions in which he batted under them in one-day internationals for England, when instinct was able to surplant circumstance, and the full array of his talent was given a chance to breathe.

Hick never had such problems being his own man on the county circuit. When he arrived at Worcestershire as a callow 18-year-old in 1984, he stunned the old stagers with the uncomplicated certainty of his strokeplay - that season he made 84 unbeaten runs on debut against Surrey, and in 1986, became the youngest player ever to pass 2000 runs. England recognition followed the moment he completed his qualification period in 1991, and though we'll never truly know why he couldn't reproduce his county form for his country, that inevitability of selection, coupled with the anxiety of waiting, surely helped to turn him into a marked man.

The scars of his England experience have long since healed, and the Hick who heads for retirement is a man who knows he gave his all for the sport - and the club - that he loved. Quite what he leaves behind him, however, is another matter entirely. Perhaps his very longevity has perpetuated the era that he helped to define, but without his totemic presence in the first-class averages, there's suddenly a void that may never be adequately filled.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Peter on September 4, 2008, 1:22 GMT

    Graeme Hick deserves all the plaudits he gets, despite a perception that he failed at the top level. In the days of averages in excess of 50 being common at test level - surely a reflection of flatter pitches and fewer real class bowlers - we tend to look down on those who averaged less than 40. However, as many batsmen will attest, averaging below 40 against the likes of Ambrose, Bishop ,Walsh, Akram, Waqar Younis etc, is no shame. Graeme Hick might not have lived up to expectations, but the man's commitment to the county circuit and his service to Worcestershire are exceptional and the game will be poorer without him.

  • Phani on September 3, 2008, 17:15 GMT

    Greame Hick- One player who never settled in the team cos always too much was expected of him. For who scoring a 100 was a norm for some one else an accomplishment. He is one player who can score very quickly and it never looks like slogging.

    I have seen his first test 100 in Mumbai live on television and although Chris Lewis scored a brilliant 100 in then Madras, Hick's innings was as good and as attacking. One particular innings is his 80 odd runs in world cup 92 semifinal! not to forget his dream run in 1998-99 triseries in Australia. He did have his problems against Curtly Ambrose but who did not!!

    How ever Hick is in one way a very complete player and would have possibly been a great if he stayed back in Zimbabwe and would have played as many test matches too. Then it would have been a loss for English county cricket where he warmed up many a heart with his batting treats.

    I would like to wish him good luck for I am sure he has lot to offer to future generations

  • StJohn on September 3, 2008, 14:28 GMT

    I too remember well the excitement and expectation that surrounded Graeme Hick's early years: I was 14 during his record-breaking 1988 season. Without doubt, Hick is a wonderful batsman whose record and stats will outlive him & his career. But when I think of Hick, like many other readers I suspect, I always think what might have been. Perhaps more than any other cricketer, Hick seems to embody the failings of English cricket in the 1990s, most particularly the mess and shambles, and the poor management and inconsistency, that defined our selection policy back then, especially under Ray Illingworth. If only he had been nurtured more and treated better by the selectors, or perhaps if only he had refused English qualification and continued playing for Zimbabwe, then maybe he would have achieved the international record his talents deserved. It is ironic that the Zimbabwean Test team of the 90s might have been a better environment for him to showcase his talents than the English team.

  • chris on September 3, 2008, 13:32 GMT

    one good thing about the central contract system - as andrew miller says in his excellent, intelligent and moving piece - is that a player such as graeme hick would no longer be prey to the whims of england managers and the press. ian bell, paul collingwood and andrew strauss - even the great godhead andrew flintoff - have all been given the chance to fail and fail again and still know that a run of big scores and good performances will bring them back into the test side. hick didn't have that backing. ten times dropped and reinstated by ray illingworth alone? what an indictment of illingworth's man management. australia would never have done that to a man so obviously supremely talented. graeme hick was a great batsmen brought down by short-term thinking and knee-jerk reactions. at his best he was awesome, a right-handed graeme pollock - with the same frailties at the beginning of an innings, and cricket will miss him terribly.

  • Jem on September 3, 2008, 12:53 GMT

    Although a Lancastrian, Hick's performance was and is, the one I looked for after the Lancs score. Despite his modest Test record, I believe he was one of the true greats whose career would have fulfilled all his talents given proper handling by the English management. What KP's enthusaism could have done for his confidence!

    My abiding memory is speaking to my own club captain the week after Hick's epic 405 when he was out for about 25: he said he was extremely disappointed to be out when set, as any batsman, however good, can be out for 0 or 1, before he has his eye in, but once you reach 20 or 30 you should go on and make the big score. And I always thought 20 or 30 WAS the big score!

    Thanks for all the memories, Graeme - you deserve the very best in retirement.

  • Shamik on September 3, 2008, 10:40 GMT

    Definitely one of the good guys. I remember the 405*! Just been reading some old Wisdens and reminiscing! I was only seven at the time, he's definitely one of the players who helped shape my love for the game. Such a shame the England management treated him so shabbily, Ray Illingworth in particular. A truly great cricketer the like of which I don't think we'll ever see again.

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