Neale recalls Hick's magical moment
History was almost made at New Road yesterday when Nick Compton narrowly failed in his bid to become the first player in 24 years to compile 1,000 first-class runs before the end of May.
The Somerset batsman needed to score 59 over the first two days of his team’s LV= County Championship match against Worcestershire, but was ultimately frustrated by rain, which saw him end day two on nine not out.
Compton’s near-miss means Graeme Hick remains one of only two post-war players - along with Glenn Turner - to have achieved the feat and Phil Neale, his captain at Worcestershire at the time, has fond memories of the moment the milestone was reached.
In 1988, a 20-year-old Hick headed into Worcestershire’s match against the touring West Indies requiring 153 to hit the 1,000 mark.
After dashing to 410 runs in April, Hick racked up the highest score of his career, a stunning unbeaten 405, against Somerset at Taunton, only to then register just 32 across his next four innings.
Neale - now the England team’s operations manager - takes up the story.
“Our last game in May was against West Indies. We thought the chance had possibly passed him by,” Neale told ecb.co.uk.
“I think people thought it was a long shot, particularly as he hadn’t scored runs in the last couple of games, but, with Graeme, anything was possible.”
Against a Windies attack including Patrick Patterson, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop, Hick went on to thump 172.
“It was an outstanding innings; they had a decent team out and he dominated from the word go,” added Neale.
“I remember the actual shot that got him to 1,000 runs, it was a square-cut right down to the pavilion fence. It almost hit the gate where you come out onto the field.
“I was particularly interested in it because it was my benefit year and I got the ball and got him to sign it, and it went for quite a lot in an auction.”
Asked if the full extent of Hick’s enormous talent was clear back then, before the Zimbabwe-born batsman had qualified for and represented England, Neale replied: “I think that was evident from the first day he walked on to the practice ground at Worcester.
“We knew we had got a Zimbabwean coming across on a scholarship and I think Leicestershire had been asked if they wanted to take him but they said no.
“He was escorted into the nets where we were practising and because he was quite big for a 17-year-old - he was the same height as he is now at that stage - we all thought, ‘we hope he can bowl quick’.
“He had a net and proceeded to hit most of the bowlers back over their heads into the school field. I was down at the other side and our net practice sort of ground to a halt because we were so busy watching what Graeme did.
“There was a bit of a debate within the club, because there was a feeling that your overseas player had to be a bowler, but there were those of us within the club who thought, that aside, this guy had got to get signed up.
“By the end of the year, he made his debut and was 84 not out against Surrey and Sylvester Clarke.”
Worcestershire went on to win the County Championship title later that summer, Hick finishing the campaign with a staggering 2,713 first-class runs, before retaining their crown in 1989.
Neale understandably considers the period to be the highlight of his career and does not underestimate Hick’s significant contribution to the cause.
“He was a phenomenal run-scorer. I spent quite a lot of time batting with him; he batted at three and I batted at five,” said Neale.
“When we won the championship in 1989 we had to win the last game against Glamorgan with maximum points to make sure. We were always going to get the bowling points, but at Worcester, on wickets that were quite a lot up and down, you had to make sure you got the 300 to get your maximum batting points.
“Graeme got a big hundred in that game. I think we put on 200 and I got 40 of them, that was the level of partnership he contributed in.
“Once he got going, I’ve never seen a guy turn a hundred into a big hundred quite so effortlessly. He would be celebrating his century and you would look up a few minutes later and he had turned it into 130, 140 and was still going, without having noticeably changed tempo.
“Technically he was a very sound player. Over the course of his career his technique changed a little bit, but at the time when he was making his way with us, he was very straight, up and down.
“Bowlers used to talk about bowling a ball and then diving for cover because the blade of the bat came through so straight and you were in great danger of being hit as the ball came back.
“The fact that he essentially played straight helped him a lot because if you played cross-batted shots at Worcestershire the indifferent bounce could find you out.”
Although Compton was unable to follow in Hick’s footsteps this week, Neale is full of admiration for the 28-year-old’s early-season efforts.
“To come close to achieving it in a season where the bowlers have dominated, to a certain degree, it’s not an insignificant achievement by any stretch of the imagination,” he added.
“It’s not been done for a long time. I remember the time before when Glenn Turner did it. I was at university and had just become associated with Worcestershire.
“In Glenn’s day there were probably a lot more matches played (before the end of May) because they played three-day matches and 32 of them during the season, but it was still a big thing.”