Graeme Hick, arguably the best English exponent of the 20-over game, tells George Dobell how it’s done - and expresses some firm opinions on the tactics required.
Few things in life are constant. Friends come and go; places change and the days of a ‘job for life’ are gone forever.
Yet for almost a quarter of a century, Graeme Hick has been an almost constant beacon of excellence at New Road. To put that in perspective, when he first strapped on his pads for the club, the miners’ strike was in its early stages, Prince Harry hadn’t been born and Indira Gandhi was still prime minister of India.
By the time Hick retires, he’ll have seen off four British prime ministers and several generations of bowlers. Forget that ‘flat-track bully’ tosh.
Ask any bowler of recent vintage about the best batsmen and Hick’s name will come up within 30 seconds. Whatever else has been going on in the world, or in the rest of our lives, Hick has continued to amass runs. Sometimes it has been thrilling, often it has been brutal. Watching him has been a joy.
If only it could go on forever. I fear, however, we are in the end days. He hinted during our conversation that 2009 might well be his last season. That having been said, it is with mixed emotions that I travel to interview him. It’s not that he is not friendly and polite - he is unfailingly so - just that I know he has a distaste for the whole process.
It’s hard to hardly blame him. After numerous trophies, 135 first-class centuries, nearly 64,000 runs and on the brink of breaking Graham Gooch’s record for the most appearances (in first-class and equivalent) cricket, journalists still talk to him in a ‘where did it all go wrong?’ tone. Perhaps that’s more a reflection of society than Hick.
After all, despite all those years in the public eye, there’s never been a hint of scandal or impropriety. He’s played for club and country with distinction, raised a happy, healthy family and will retire a credit to them all. Really, if that’s not success, I don’t know what is. So how does he feel about talking to the media now?
“I won’t miss it,” he says. “I do it more willingly than I did but I won’t miss it. There are some people I am happy to talk to, but I’m a quiet man and I’m happy to be a quiet man.
“Besides, 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.
“If you’re asking when I’ll retire, the answer is soon. Next year is soon, isn’t it? But I’m not really thinking about it. I’ve really enjoyed the last few years and while that’s the case, and I’m still contributing, I’ll carry on.
“Yes, I’ve thought about coaching and I’ve thought about the media. I tried to get some work with Sky but they don’t seem interested. Will I do a book? I might. But I find a lot of cricket books really boring. I mean, who cares where I went or what I thought in 1995?
“But I’ll tell you this: If I won the Lottery, I wouldn’t do anything after cricket. I’d be happy to wander around after my son picking up his golf balls.”
A Lottery win may be a long shot, but a spell in the Indian leagues is almost certain. Although he is coy (“I’ll answer any question except that,” he says with a smile), it would be staggering if Hick had not been approached.
Bearing in mind that Worcestershire chief executive Mark Newton has already said his players will be welcome to miss a few weeks of the season to take part in the Indian Premier League, the smart money is on Hick taking part next year. Not that it is of much interest to Hick.
“I’m not so bothered that I’d pay to watch it,” he says.
That is not to say he is not a fan of Twenty20 cricket. He has taken to it with relish and has been, arguably, its best English exponent. No Englishman with more than 500 runs has a better strike-rate than his 165 runs per 100 balls.
Worldwide, Ian Harvey has made more than Hick’s two Twenty20 centuries, while only Darren Maddy (11) has more half-centuries than his seven. Hick, with 47, has also hit more sixes than any Englishman. Really, he should have been in the Twenty20 World Cup side. So what’s the secret of Twenty20 success?
“Generally the best players are the best players whatever the format,” he says. “There are very seldom exceptions. People talk about good one-day bowlers, but the best way to stop momentum in a side is by taking wickets.
“I play the same shots as in first-class cricket. It’s just there are fewer blocks. I hear I’ve hit more sixes in Twenty20 than anyone else. Well, I reckon 90 per cent have been between wide mid-on and mid-off. It’s basically a normal drive, but with a follow through.
“If you pre-meditate, you limit your options. I don’t play many shots that I wouldn’t play in a Championship game. I might play them a bit earlier and I might allow the bowler less margin, but it’s the same game, just speeded up a bit.
“The players love it. It’s the cricket we played as kids. It gives us a license to play our shots and we can’t look stupid if we’re out. And it’s changed the game. Look how much quicker batsmen score in Test cricket now. And there are hardly any draws. People play big shots much earlier in their innings and score 80-ball hundreds much more often.
"I’m not a fan of picking specialists for Twenty20. I wouldn’t have had Darren Maddy anywhere near the England side for the Twenty20 World Cup. I don’t see Luke Wright or Dimi Mascarenhas as specialists. They’re good players. Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussain were probably lucky to play in the one-day side for long.
“At Worcester we signed a guy for the first season of Twenty20 from Minor Counties cricket. I forget his name [it is David Taylor], but he was a solid chap who gave the ball a good slap. He did really well in the first game, making a quick 70 [it was 46], but he was found out after that. Bowlers pitched a bit shorter, and because he wasn’t used to it, he couldn’t get the ball away. He didn’t last long.”
The same can hardly be said for Hick. Familiarity tends to breed complacency, but we have a true great at New Road.
Catch him while you can; we’ll not see his like again.
Graeme Hick was speaking to promote Sky Sports’ exclusively live in HD,coverage of the Twenty20 Cup which started last night.