Graeme Hick: A Worcestershire hero to the last
Sep 3 2008 By George Dobell, Chief Cricket Writer
Chief Cricket Writer George Dobell pays tribute to Worcestershire batsman Graeme Hick, who has graced the West Midlands for 25 years.
The Cathedral remains; the chestnut trees will surely continue to flourish; but New Road will never be quite the same again.
An era ended this week when Graeme Hick, the greatest county player of his generation, announced his retirement on Tuesday.
For a quarter-of-a-century Hick has dominated the domestic game. With those lofted drives; those dismissive pulls; the cuts and back foot drives, he broke the hearts of two generations of English bowlers. We will, I suspect, never see his like again.
We may not have seen the last of him just yet. Should his elbow recover, he remains available for the rest of the season and was very close to playing against Warwickshire at New Road this week.
Weather permitting, his last innings should come in a County Championship Division Two game against Middlesex at Worcester from September 17.
Hick was unable to emulate Sir Donald Bradman in many ways, but in one he still may. Bradman’s last Test innings, a ‘duck’ courtesy of Eric Hollies’ googly, was apparently caused by tears in his eyes as he acknowledged the applause of the crowd.
Judging by his obvious emotion at New Road on Tuesday, Hick may suffer in a similar way.
It will surprise some that Hick left amid tears and strangled sobs, but it shouldn’t. He never had the weariness or the cynicism of a veteran. He remained as enthusiastic and energetic as a colt.
Not for one moment did he fall out of love with this game or this club. I understand that a role as coach at Malvern College beckons. If so, the boys and girls will be lucky to have him. Not just for his experience or knowledge, but for his kindness and his decency.
Despite a long career in the spotlight, despite the disappointments, the slights, the abuse and the acclaim, he never changed.
His reputation is impeccable; his record immaculate. He has been a credit to his family, his club and his sport. No cricketer can achieve more.
How will he be remembered? Well, at New Road his reputation has long been assured. He will be remembered with immense pride and satisfaction.
Phil Neale, his former captain, called him “the greatest batsman in the history of the club;” – strong words, bearing in mind the likes of Glenn Turner – but almost undeniable.
The statistics (136 first-class centuries, 41,112 first-class runs, an average of 52) are staggering. Whatever his trials and tribulations elsewhere, he has continued to score vast amount of runs for his county.
Not only that, but he remained friendly and approachable. A club man, through and through. He will always be adored at New Road.
It’s not just raw stats that inspire such adoration. It’s loyalty and it’s vulnerability. He was never going to play for another county.
When he was slaughtered in the national press after his struggles in the England team, the people at New Road embraced him.
After defeat or glory, the people of New Road saw the family man playing with his children after stumps. This was the only place he could play the game he loved but be himself.
It is no coincidence that, when asked to name the highlight of his career, he talked of “the friendships” and a day at New Road. The day he passed 1,000 runs before the end of May, in 1988.
“My parents arrived that day,” he said.
He scored 172 that day against a mighty West Indies attack that included Patrick Patterson, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop.
They threw everything they had at him but, despite the tricky pitch, he looked a class above and appeared to have the world at his feet. It wasn’t to be.
Some will say he should have achieved more. Certainly his Test batting average (31.32) is disappointing for one so talented, though it should be acknowledged that he played in a period rich with great fast bowlers. Were he making his Test debut as a young man now, he would surely flourish.
He might benefit from better management, too. He was dropped more than ten times by inconsistent national selectors and shunted up and down the batting order so often that his confidence, never a fraction as strong as a player like Kevin Pietersen, was damaged.
It is more than coincidence that Hick and Mark Ramprakash made their Test debut in the same game. Both were hugely talented and could have gone to achieve great things on the international stage; both were damaged by their experiences in the England team.
Hick, though, would be the first to admit that he must take some responsibility. Perhaps it was his slow foot movement; perhaps it was his difficulty avoiding the bouncer; perhaps he was mentally fragile. In the end, the figures tell their own story.
Forgot that tosh about being a flat-track bully, though.
Answers are not that simple. I saw him play magnificent innings, against all bowlers, on all sorts of pitches. Even this year, he remained the most effective batsman I saw in Twenty20 cricket and it would be no surprise if he flourished in the rebel Indian Cricket League in due course.
I don’t think we’ll ever really know why he didn’t score more runs at international level.
And perhaps that’s the way he likes it. Earlier this season, we were discussing a possible autobiography when he said this: “I quite like the fact that there’s a part of me that only my family gets to see.
“There’s a bit of me that’s only for them and I’d quite like to keep it that way. I’m a quiet man and I’m happy to be a quiet man.”
Certainly Tuesday's proceedings nailed some myths about Hick. Any suggestion that he was remotely interested in breaking records has been scotched: he is on the brink of several of them.
Any suggestion that he is unemotional was scotched: he was unable to control himself when he gave a press conference after the close of play.
“I felt it was the right time,” Hick said between the tears. “There are guys in the dressing room who need to play. My time is up.
“I felt it was right to finish. I had a feeling at the start of the year that it was going to be my last year. Then, a few weeks ago I was sitting at Cheltenham during the four-day game and I felt it was time to go.
“It wasn’t a physical decision. But it would have been harder to get through a full season next year and I felt I wouldn’t want to start the year and have to pack up halfway through the season.
“I’m not sure what I’ll be doing in five years. I think every player over the age of 30 has been approached by the ICL [the rebel Indian league]. Now I’ve retired, that is an opportunity. It may be an avenue I consider.
“I had my first job offer today. I was asked whether I wanted to play Minor Counties Championship cricket [for Herefordshire]. I couldn’t tell if it was serious, but it made me chuckle.”
Sadly there weren’t many chuckles. Hick, overcome by emotion, was applauded out of a press conference by hacks who are not prone to displays of affection and keen to spare him further agonies.
Hopefully, in the coming days, he’ll reflect he has far more to celebrate than regret. It has been a remarkable innings.