Hick has the weaponry to wring runs from suspect England tail (11 December 1998)

11 December 1998

Hick has the weaponry to wring runs from suspect England tail

By Christopher Martin-Jenkins

THE Adelaide Oval has always been one of the most delightful stages for batting in all the world but, curiously, only Eddie Barlow has scored a Test double century against Australia here. When I mentioned that to Graeme Hick after his net on the eve of a third Test due to start this morning in baking heat, he smiled and said: "Well, the tail will have to improve if I'm going to get one."

It was an interesting reaction, suggesting at once a more relaxed frame of mind than he has often had before a Test and a lingering resentment that he was not an original choice for this England tour of Australia, earmarked for a prime batting position rather than being called back as a replacement and asked to bat as low as No 7, still one below John Crawley.

When Crawley was preferred to Hick after both had made centuries against Sri Lanka at the Oval in August, the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, said it was the hardest decision he had had to make since taking over from Ray Illingworth. Hick himself was barely consolable and a glance at his batting for England abroad - he averages 41 outside his adopted homeland - helps to explain why.

Four years ago here he was playing as well as he ever had when a back injury ended his participation on the eve of the match in Adelaide. Three Tests had yielded 208 runs, including the 98 not out at Sydney when Mike Atherton, to his eventual regret, declared on him to make a point about teamwork.

Hick's 68 at Perth, the highest score of the match, might prove to have been the prelude to a more serene and consistently successful final phase as a Test batsman. Today's match will be his 51st game, he is only 32 and he is fitter than most mortals. Graham Gooch averaged 32 at the same age, but 37 by the time he had finished.

Hick already averages 35 and against Australia that is improved to 41. He is not satisfied by any suggestion that his future for England lies mainly as a one-day player. "They are different games completely," he says "and every player would agree that there is nothing to compare with Test cricket, especially against Australia."

His task now is to make up for the loss of Graham Thorpe, scorer of a double hundred against South Australia here a month ago. Thorpe's reliable catching at first slip will be missed, as will the quality and confidence of his batting and the advantage his left-handedness gave in disrupting the line of the bowlers, Stuart MacGill definitely not excluded. But Hick is losing no sleep about MacGill, even after his second innings success at Brisbane, and he has it in him to turn Thorpe's misfortune to his own and England's advantage.

He batted at his formidable best earlier this week in Melbourne and although he missed a tricky overhead catch in the deep, his sharpness at second slip seems to have returned now that he has had a chance to acclimatise.

"I didn't wish any bad luck on anyone," he said, "but I had a sixth sense that I might be coming out at some stage, just because of the workload on the tour. With all the flights it's tiring and I felt it was going to be a hard tour for Graham to get through unless his back was really back to 100 per cent."

Hick has always spoken confidently about his own batting but that crucial self-belief has not always flowed into his game when he goes out to bat. "My wife says she always knows if I am going to make runs. Sometimes walking out to bat throughout my career I've felt on edge, not just in Test cricket but in first-class cricket, too, feeling as if things are on top of me a little bit, maybe worrying about things too much. Then there are other times when I've walked out and felt that I'm in straightaway.

"I think it goes through patches in everyone's career. Sometimes they go into situations not feeling as confident as they should, perhaps after a low run of scores or because you've not been having much luck. Cricket goes round in circles and everyone has their turn for success. Through a series in a settled team you hope that everyone will contribute in at least a couple of matches at some stage."

When Hick had a net in Perth after the second Test with Peter Carlstein, the renowned coach with whom he played for Zimbabwe when he was a teenager, the advice he got was not technical but mental. With more than most players this seems to be the key to Hick's game. He has always been introspective and opposing bowlers have been anxious to prey on his inner doubts. But they fear him, too. A flat track bully he may be but, as Perth showed once more, he is possessed of a rare and exalted talent.

Jason Gillespie may not have encountered such rough treatment in his short career as he did when Hick struck him for 23 in an over on the second evening. Gillespie had his revenge the next morning, but the message was clear. Hick no longer fears bowlers of high reputation and, perhaps, he no longer fears failure to the extent he once did.

Adelaide should suit him. He made a hundred here against South Australia early on the last tour and if he feels nervous when he goes out at No 7 - four places lower than his preferred position and quite possibly four places lower than the one he should be occupying by right - the proximity of the mellow stone cathedral ought to encourage a mental transition to Worcester. The scene of the majority of his 103 first-class hundreds has been his home since his career in England started in 1984 and he is already assured of a successful benefit next year. Mind you, a double hundred here would help.

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