Hick holds place as Thorpe holds back (2 December 1998)

2 December 1998

Hick holds place as Thorpe holds back

By Christopher Martin-Jenkins

GRAEME HICK has earned himself a new lease in Test cricket after the performance in his 50th match for England here which started badly but ended only some 50 runs short of heroism. The tour manager, Graham Gooch, confirmed yesterday that Hick will be a full member of the squad for the remainder of the tour.

His reaction was to spend a morning working on his batting with the help of a bowling machine and Peter Carlstein, formerly of South Africa, now the renowned coach who has fine-tuned many a batting technique, including that of the next in line to a middle-order batting place for England, Northamptonshire's Mal Loye.

Good news for Hick may be bad, however, for Graham Thorpe. Unless he plays this weekend against Victoria at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, his further participation in the tour will have to be in doubt, although, when he is fully fit, he is an automatic selection. Gooch said: "If he continues to be unfit at Melbourne, we'll have to sit down and talk again. He'll have a workout on Wednesday, fly on Thursday and have another workout on Friday."

There has, unfortunately, been sufficient vagueness about the nature of Thorpe's latest back complaint and the treatment he has been given to suggest a smokescreen, although what purpose is served by keeping his condition a mystery is unclear. One would have expected stiffness from a plane journey - albeit one of seven hours in a rather cramped seat - to have cleared up before now, given the daily treatment which Thorpe has been receiving from England's physiotherapist, Wayne Morton.

Thorpe had a disc operation in July. Needless to say, he was not among the players who got away from the disappointments of the WACA to play some golf yesterday. Those who do not want to practise will be given a further respite today. Practice for everyone begins in earnest again in Melbourne on Friday. As Gooch said: "It serves no great purpose to put them through the mill every day because all you get in the end is mediocrity."

That sounded like the approach of a reformed workaholic. 'Hard work' has been his mantra through life but Gooch has matured as his cricketing horizons have widened and he has been quietly impressive as the senior figure on this tour.

There were, however, unnecessary contradictions in official statements about Thorpe's fitness from three different sources. What matters, surely, is not these different interpretations, but whether Thorpe will recover, or be obliged to return home early from a major England tour for the second time in one year.

As things stand, there will be 18 players to choose from for the five remaining first-class matches. Nor is there any shortage of support staff. Gooch, although he took the making of a speech in his capable stride at the start of the tour at Lilac Hill, is very much the tracksuit manager and the coach, David Lloyd, has slipped into more of a back-room role. This may well be by design, given Lloyd's occasional faux pas in the past, but such has been Gooch's dedication to the art of batting, he is never happier than when he is at Lloyd's side in the nets.

It is the batting, too, which needs most attention if England are to fulfill their ambition of winning the Ashes. It would mean winning at least two of the three remaining Tests and not losing the other. Alec Stewart may play against Victoria on Saturday as a batsman, giving Warren Hegg a match. The bowlers not required for Perth - Fraser, Headley, Croft, Such and the almost forgotten Hollioake - can all expect a game.

Fraser could do with a good game, but it would be a surprise if he is not back in the Test side for Adelaide on Friday week, with Gough, Tudor, Mullally and Croft. That would mean Robert Croft batting at seven and one batting place only for one of Thorpe, Hick and Crawley, in that current order of preference.

It looks as though Shane Warne will miss the match rather than risk too early a confrontation with England. The painful truth may be that, with Stuart MacGill again among the wickets for New South Wales, there will be no need for Australia to rush him back into the side. Should England upset the applecart in Adelaide or Melbourne, Warne would be a handy insurance policy for the final Test on the turning pitch at Sydney.

The aftermath of an England defeat in conditions unique to Perth is not the best time for the counties to be debating their future progammes, but the fact is that they are about to do so. It is good news that the draw is likely to be given four points in the championship and that winning points will drop from 16 to 12, because it might discourage the preparation of pitches to suit the home side and also strengthen the resolve of teams when defeat looms.

Those about to vote for two divisions, however - the great majority, it seems - should not fool themselves that such a decision will enhance the prospects of a consistently successful England team. The paramount need to produce cricketers of international class and competitiveness continues to be confused with the desirability of having a commercially viable first-class county competition.

The acceptance of separate contracts for England players should help to ensure that the likes of Alex Tudor are kept fresh and ready for international duty. Two-division cricket, however, is no more likely to produce the required balance of talented and battle-hardened cricketers required than the existing competition. Corners are even more likely to be cut to win matches, not least in preparing sporty pitches.

The emergence of Tudor shows that at least some naturally talented cricketers are being spotted and developed under the present structure. Another promising fast bowler, Steve Harmison, will embark on his first A tour shortly, as will an off-spinning all-rounder of much potential, Graeme Swann. If Ben Hollioake does not develop on this tour, there are at least three other young county all-rounders who might.

England would only need to unearth a wrist spinner then to become a formidable team.

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