The following article from Lynsey Williams is appearing on the Professional Cricketers' Association official website about Worcestershire legend Graeme Hick.
Graeme Hick – The Player and the Coach
Ahead of joining the Australian coaching team for the up-coming limited-overs series against the West Indies and South Africa this June, we reflect on the career of ex-Worcestershire CCC & England player Graeme Hick and talk about his journey to becoming a Cricket Australia High Performance Coach.
Growing up in Zimbabwe, Graeme recalls two early influences in his cricket development. “At school the coaches that helped me the most were Rob Altschul, our Under 12 coach, a master who committed a lot of time to us and always made training and playing enjoyable and Wrex McUlloucgh the Under 14 coach and eccentric geography teacher who worked hard to iron out any issues and develop discipline whilst still managing to keep things enjoyable.”
When asked about influences later in his career as a Worcestershire and England player, it was the legend of the game Basil D’Oliveira who Graeme credits as having the biggest influence on his professional career saying… “Basil believed in me the most”.
A quiet and modest man, Graeme’s cricket credentials speak for themselves. Rather than list a plethora of impressive statistics, we turned to former teammates to give us their insight into the man and the performer.
New chief executive of the Professional Cricketers’ Association, and long standing Worcestershire team-mate, David Leatherdale smiles when he says “Hicky was in a different class to us mere mortals… Bowling at him in the nets to realise that he was practising with a bat that was half as wide as everybody else just added to the aura he had…and the fact he didn’t recognise how good he was shows some of his other qualities”
David is under no doubt that Graeme and his performances were very much the catalyst for the clubs success in the late 80s and 90s and put Worcestershire on the map. His all-round abilities put most to shame. “When you had someone of Hicky’s qualities in the team you always felt you were one step ahead and a game was never dead.”
These same sentiments are shared by Steve Rhodes, fellow Worcestershire teammate and current Director of Cricket at Worcestershire CCC… “Graeme was a terrific player who played some of the best innings I have ever seen. He had an uncanny knack of not missing out on a 4 ball.”
A very loyal person (one man Club) and icon of New Road, Steve recalls how well Graeme entertained in the way he played… “When he went out to bat the bars and dressing rooms emptied as everyone wanted to watch.”
Asked to share his highlights of playing with Graeme, Steve says, “Many innings stand out but one in particular against Lancs in ’88. They produced all types of wickets in the past to try to beat us. Pacey, seaming and eventually in ’88 they tried spinning. Graeme got 212 and nobody else made a 50 in our innings and we won by 10 wickets. Also, the 405* against Somerset in ‘88 cannot be ignored, with Graeme moving from the nervous 290’s! He was on 288* and the next 2 balls were sixes!”
Current Captain of Worcestershire, Daryl Mitchell who grew up under Graeme shares his experience. “They say you should never meet your hero's but in my experience with Graeme this couldn't be further from the truth! Growing up watching Hicky destroy bowling attacks you often wondered what the secret to his success was.
"Having got to share a dressing room with him towards the back end of his career, the secret was there was no secret. He kept things very simple, he played straight, a big strong man he hit the ball extremely hard, kept the good balls out and was ruthless in dispatching the bad ball off front and back foot. If the bowler missed it went to the fence. An imposing figure and reputation to bowl at, inevitably that pressure meant the bowler missed more often than against us mere mortals.
“A quiet man, he never really imposed his thoughts on you individually or in team meetings but if asked he normally had the right answer to the question. As I became more involved in the first team and got to know 'G' I was fortunate enough to tap into that wealth of knowledge and experience on the various county ground balconies or over a beer.
“His contribution to Worcestershire Cricket has been immense, his stats speak for themselves, 136 FC hundreds alone, that will never be repeated. He certainly inspired my generation, probably the generation before and after too, as well as entertaining cricket lovers of all ages from all counties over his 25 year career.”
When reflecting on his most memorable cricketing moments, Graeme doesn’t mention specifics. “What I enjoyed the most about playing cricket was winning and knowing that I had made an important contribution to the result of the team,” says Graeme.
“Towards the end of my career it was exciting to see the young players enjoying those moments when I had played well as it’s important to learn to enjoy other peoples’ success, and in turn I loved seeing the look on their faces when they achieved their first milestones.”
Graeme’s support and enjoyment at seeing others perform well is recalled by Warwickshire player Richard Jones who started his career at Worcestershire and played with Graeme as a young lad…“Graeme was stood at second slip when I took my first wicket on debut vs Warwickshire, and I remember him congratulating me and saying that I'd never forget it. That was a great moment for me, growing up a Worcestershire fan getting to play with one of my childhood heroes.
“As a player, he was one of the best I've ever played with” says Richard. “Having him in your side meant you were pretty much guaranteed runs and everything would be caught at slip. As a person he was quiet and reserved, but would always lend an ear and a valuable piece of advice to anyone who tried to tap in to his wealth of experience.”
Richard continues… “His legacy at Worcestershire will last forever. The pavilion is in his name and his run-scoring feats will probably never be beaten in the modern era. He's the very definition of a legend. With 185 appearances for England, it speaks volumes that most people would suggest that he was harshly treated by the selectors, seemingly always being the first player dropped following a poor team performance.”
With an England career spanning 10 years including 65 Test Matches and 120 ODI’s, and achieving top 10 rankings in the all-time stats for first class runs, hundreds and double hundreds, what is Graeme most proud of? “I always wished to make my parents and family proud of me and I know the success may help a bit in that, but deep down it was important for me to conduct myself correctly as a sportsman, we were always taught that as young kids. Hopefully I achieved that.”
With the demanding schedule of playing county and international cricket the ability to switch off between games was important.
He says: “A round of golf, a bit of social tennis, watching other sports and having a good time with friends all helped me to switch off but spending so much time on the road meant my home time was special to me. Throughout my career I tried to avoid taking ‘my job’ home, if that makes sense. If I may have felt disgruntled by something, there was no need to then go home and spoil that time too. My wife, Jackie has always been a very supportive and understanding influence on me as a person, giving me a great home to go back to and get away from it all.”
At the end of the 2008 season, after 25 years with Worcestershire CCC, Graeme felt it was the right time to leave the game and announced his decision to retire. “I was ready to go, so apart from the initial emotional announcement I was happy with my decision. At 42 the body and mind had had enough. I was pleased it came to me during a game at Cheltenham College v Gloucester, I had got out, wasn’t too bothered about it and that made me realise the edge had gone.”
Shortly after retiring Graeme and his family moved to live in Australia but how this came about was quite strange as Graeme explains…”We were over here as a family and I was playing in a XXXX Gold Beach Cricket promotion, my children were 12 and nine, having a great time. After about a week, we were out eating one night and they asked us why we lived in England, when it was so much more fun here. We tried to explain to the children that they were on holiday and it wasn’t quite the same… that seemed to fall on deaf ears. It sowed a seed and Jackie and I started talking about it and it snowballed from there. So in the end we decided to uproot for lifestyle and opportunity for the kids. We had a plan that if it didn’t work out after two years which completed my son’s education then we would return.”
Graeme and his family enjoyed life on the Gold Coast for a couple of years, with Graeme doing a few “bit’s and pieces” around the game and having a bit of free time. “I wasn’t thinking of full time coaching at that moment and having spent some time away from the game meant I actually enjoyed being around it again.”
So how did the opportunity to Coach at the National Cricket Centre (NCC) come about? “I was doing a little local coaching and I was asked to come to the NCC and help out in a few sessions. Fortunately Stu Law took on the Queensland Cricket Head Coach role and the opportunity opened up here. I applied for the role and was very pleasantly surprised when I was offered the position. To date I have been extremely fortunate to be work with some really good people.”
Graeme completed his UKCC level 4 coaching qualification whilst playing, but how easy was the transition into full time coaching? “I think the challenge as a player going into coaching is to keep an open mind, to treat each person individually and avoid the temptation to coach how you played.”
He goes further saying, “Each individual has his own character, style, strengths and weaknesses and as a coach it is up to you identify them and develop him as an individual, not clone him into something he is not.”
Graeme reflects on how the game has evolved since his playing days.”T20 is the obvious big change and I think it has at times made Test Cricket a little more entertaining with the game being played at a faster rate. I loved the “Pink Ball” Test match that was played last year at Adelaide Oval. It was a great spectacle and I think we will see more of it.”
Coaching the next generation of elite players in Australia, skills and qualities aside Graeme acknowledges the special ingredient of ‘luck’ needed to be successful at the top level. “We are very lucky here at NCC, where we are working with the elite and we have very good people around them to help develop them as people and players. There are certain “traits” or “qualities” that you can look for in players but there are still no guarantees of success. There are so many hurdles they need to overcome to become a great player so if you can find one/two players a year and get them there, you’re doing well. “
June 2016 will provide an exciting opportunity for Graeme. “With the main coaching group having a break there was an opportunity for these roles to be filled. The timing is great for me as I’m now more comfortable in my role and had been hoping to spend a little time with the National Team, see how they operate and then bring that back to my role developing the younger players……and one of my favorite restaurants is in Barbados, so it will be good to have a meal there again!”
Looking further into the future, what are Graeme’s coaching ambitions? “I will continue my role here at the NCC and embrace the opportunities to develop further as a coach and then I will decide. I have a couple of paths I wouldn’t mind taking that I have thought about, but I’ll keep those to myself for now.”