(The Original)

Amateur Scribe

In Defence of the Flat Track Bully

Next Tuesday, a quiet, unassuming man will take to the field on his 40th birthday as Worcestershire play Glamorgan at New Road in what is already looking like the wooden spoon contest at the basement of the County Championship Division 2.

I doubt there will be much of a fanfare outside of the Worcester faithful – the media hullabaloo that hounded Graeme Hick during the nineties has been diverted by Ashes victories and batsmen with spiky hair who date pop stars and supermodels. And he’d want it that way, for the last five summers the former England man has been free to concentrate on doing what he does best – battering domestic bowling attacks and etching his name ever deeper in county folklore.

In the twenty-two seasons he has been turning out for Worcestershire, he has become one of the greatest ever to play the first class game – 10th on the all time centuries list with none of his contemporaries anywhere close. Yet at test level he found himself some way off the pace.

Much has been made of this, earning him the frustrating and somewhat derisory “enigma” tag. “See, he’s now’t but a flat-track bully,” smirked the tabloids, adopting John Bracewell's putdown as Curtley Ambrose pinged in the short stuff and clinically destroyed his self-esteem. The negative press received by Hick immediately after his debut series against the West Indies in 1991 was breathtaking in its unhelpfulness, coming, as it did, hot on the heels of such a build-up, such misguided optimism.

Frustratingly for such a devoted (and some might say obsessed) fan, I rarely actually saw Hick in full flow. When the TV cameras are on him there is an awkward inevitability about his demise - every ball is a heart-in-mouth moment. Listening on the radio is even worse – Henry Blofeld’s rasping crescendo of excitement – a moment’s uncertainty as that eccentric bastion of the microphone muddles his words – and then the death knell “He’s out! He’s out!” or some equally definitive piece of commentary, and, as Hick trudges back to the pavilion, I switch off Test Match Special and go down to the bottom of the garden to eat worms.

As a student in Nottinghamshire my £16 season ticket bought me access to the pavilion and to within touching distance (God, now I really do sound like a stalker…). I went to watch when Worcester came to Trent Bridge and Hick breezed to fifty in a rain-interrupted one-dayer. I’d ducked in for a pint and he stalked past, head down, giant strides, a man utterly focused on the job in hand. Ironically it was probably this concentration, this quiet aloofness that was the greatest detriment to his public likeability.


Blowers: Muddled excitement

As he passes 40 (usually a sign that a ton is imminent) he has put on record his desire to keep on playing and I just hope there are more centuries out there for him. His form has been poor so far this season and it would be a shame if a career as impressive as his were curtailed by one final ignominious sacking. Such a great servant to his county and the game in general deserves to go out with a roar, not a whimper.

May 2006

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