James Charles Hildreth
September 09, 1984, Milton Keynes
Right hand bat
Right arm medium fast
Middle order batter
Millfield School, Glastonbury
Justin Langer, who became James Hildreth's captain at Somerset, rated him quite early in his career as "an extraordinary talent" and toughened Australian cricketers of Langer's ilk don't throw around such comments without good reason. But somehow Hildreth's talent has never blossomed into England caps in any format, leaving him as arguably the most talented county batsman of his era never to have won international honours.
By the time he scored an avalanche of runs in 2015 - more than 1600 in first-class cricket at 55.86, making him England's most prolific red-ball batsman - Hildreth was 31 and England's thoughts were elsewhere. Perhaps Hildreth, a prodigy at Millfield School, never quite had the fierce will to make it, perhaps his reputation for not being as secure against the short ball counted against him. But as a stylish off-side driver he had few peers, and he has been highly valued at Taunton as an entertaining and consistent run-scorer in the middle order, scoring more than 12,000 first-class runs for the county.
For any batsman, Taunton is the ideal place to launch a career. There was much expected of Hildreth from age-group level, and his 101 and 72 in just his second County Championship match, against a Durham attack that included Shoaib Akhtar, hinted at a stellar career.
He hailed from that solid breeding ground of first-class cricketers, Millfield School, where he was part of the first XI for four years. His progression continued through England youth sides at all levels including the Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh in 2003-04. He ended his age-group career with 210 in the final Test against Bangladesh in 2004 and had a cameo role of 38 off 24 balls when Somerset famously chased down 343 to beat the touring Australians in 2005 - also helping his county to Twenty20 Cup glory that season.
Hildreth spent the winter of 2007-08 with the England development squad but still his potential wasn't translated into consistent results. His average lingered in the 30s rather than the 40s as he threatened to become one of the county game's frustrating talents. His opening innings of the 2009 season, again on a batting paradise at Taunton, suggested the best was still to come as he took Warwickshire for an unbeaten 303 - the earliest triple century in an English season. But in the remaining 22 innings that season he scored only another 631 runs. Finally, in 2010, Hildreth produced the season everyone had been waiting for, with seven centuries and 1,440 runs at 65.45. It played a big part in Somerset's push for a maiden County Championship title but they were denied in the final session of the season.
He returned to the national set up with the England performance squad in Australia in 2010-11 and, when he captained England Lions in the West Indies a few months later, the chances of an international career were again getting brighter. But he averaged 38.82 and 43.00 in the next two Championship seasons, not quite big enough numbers to really turn the heads of the selectors, especially considering Taunton's batsman-friendly surfaces, and suggestions that he was regarded as vulnerable against the short ball persisted.
As he admitted towards the end of an inconsistent 2014: "I'm not as consistent as I need to be. I've not had a poor career, but I've been inconsistent. I'm around the 1000-run mark most years but I don't kick on. That's the story of my career."
Many perceived a softness at the heart of Hildreth's game. Be that as it may, he fashioned a wonderful retort with a hobbling hundred against Nottinghamshire at Taunton after his ankle had been fractured by Jake Ball as early as the 15th over of the innings. It was a valiant knock which deserved to help Somerset to a first Championship, but he looked on, his ankle in plaster, as Middlesex stole the title on the final day of the season. Somerset, by then, had become content with his easy-going talents. He showed little interest in the captaincy after Marcus Trescothick stood down - the young batsman Tom Abell took it on instead - but Somerset showed faith in his testimonial year with the award of a new four-year contract that would take him to his 37th birthday.
With England's batting problems clear to see in 2018, Hildreth supporters once again hoped the call would come in a summer when he was second only to Surrey's Rory Burns in Division One Championship runs (nobody else passed 1,000), but England turned to Joe Denly, who had made far fewer runs in Division Two but who offered a legs-pin option for the tour of Sri Lanka.
He may have found a career in cricket but Hildreth is a talented all-round sportsman. He played hockey for the West of England, tennis and squash for the South of England, rugby for Millfield and football for Luton Town as a teenager.
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