In being appointed Cricket Australia’s high performance coach, Graeme Hick has accepted arguably the most difficult challenge of his long and decorated career.
Hick, who scored 3383 Test runs at an average of 31.32 was best known for prolific First-Class career with Worchestershire. A stubborn batsman who placed a high price on his wicket, Hick boasts an incredible record with some of the more amazing statistical achievements in the sport’s history:
- One of 8 players to score a First-Class quadruple century – 405* in 1988
- Sixteen double-centuries, the second most of any living player
- First-Class average of 52.23 with a total of 41,112 runs and 136 centuries
The former England Test batsman will be based at the Centre of Excellence in Brisbane and is responsible for the resurrection of Australia’s batting woes, particularly at Under-17, Under-19 and Australia A levels.
Last Sheffield Shield season, just 6 Australians scored multiple centuries. Of them, only Jordan Silk, Joe Burns and Phillip Hughes are under 30-years of age. What is even more concerning is that the now retired Ricky Ponting scored the most runs in the competition, despite playing just 9 matches.
On the Test cricket front, Australia had 3 of the top 5 run-scorers in the recent Ashes series, however only Chris Rogers represented the ‘Baggy Green’ in the top 5 when it came to balls faced.
The obvious line of argument, pursued tirelessly in the past is that the increasing prominence of T20 cricket has seen impatience become a curse at the crease rather than a virtue. It’s certainly an argument that Hick and his Test strike rate of 48.88 subscribe to, but how can he implement it when the modern game is so heavily centered on the shorter formats of the sport?
Restructuring of the Domestic Season
A compacted Ryobi Cup has several benefits which will be discussed in this week’s podcast, however the greatest will be that for two distinct blocks of the summer (September 30 – November 21 and January 27 – March 14) Sheffield Shield cricket is the lone concern of players. For years, the likes of Nic Maddinson have had to change mindsets all too frequently. This altered season structure means that there is just one break in the Shield season, giving players the opportunity to build a season and a campaign for Test selection, not just individual innings’.
Selection Consistency and Transparency
The informed player management policy, otherwise known as the rotation policy was a product of the highly controversial, counter-productive and seemingly failed Argus Report. Whilst any remnants of the policy left the Cricket Australia set-up with the departure of Mickey Arthur, new coaching usually equates to a sizeable portion of uncertainty.
Darren Lehmann had an Ashes squad largely forced on him when he was appointed Australian coach. Whether he would have changed it significant remains to be seen, but with the return Ashes series upcoming, Lehmann will have the challenge of selecting the squad he feels is the country’s best. Whilst Michael Clarke acknowledges Graeme Hick will have a role to play with that elite group, his greatest role will be with the players who just miss out.
Players like Usman Khawaja, Maddinson and even the relatively experienced Phillip Hughes will become the focal point of his development programs. Whilst they may drift in and out of Australia A line-ups, they are the future of Test cricket in Australia and need a mentor who advocates a consistent message, provides constant updates on progress and has a knowledge of the Test system sufficient enough to gauge progress of individual players.
Not since the early years of Ricky Ponting’s captaincy has Australia had a clear player hierarchy. Watson would replace Symonds, Hodge would replace Martyn, Jacques or Rogers would replace Langer or Hayden in the event of an incumbent being unavailable. Without players of that class, similar processes aren’t as self-justifying, but it falls to Hick to make them so.
If Lehmann can settle on a Test XI, Hick will find himself in a position mentoring the replacement players he feels can challenge the lowly expectations the Australian public have of their Test batsmen.
Hick scored most of his runs from number 3 in the order and is a firm advocate of rigidity and specialization within the batting ranks. Australia entered the 5th Ashes Test in England with 3 all-rounders, 3 openers and only 1 specialist middle-order batsman in Michael Clarke. In every single way, Australia’s personnel has determined their structure and as such, the virtues of patience and balance endorsed by Hick have been abandoned by necessity.
In fact, the most Australia focussed on team structure this last Ashes series was to bat all right-handers further down the order so that the left-handers hopefully made a start before Graeme Swann entered the attack. If Australia were to pursue structure before personnel in the immediate future, its batting order would read: Rogers, Watson, Khawaja, Doolan/Maddinson, Clarke, Smith, Haddin; at least two of whom are significantly underprepared for the rigors of Test cricket.
Whilst Hick may lack the selection capacity to alter this imbalance directly, team cohesion will come naturally when players with different skill sets justify their own selection. Currently, Warner, Watson, Smith, Hughes and Faulkner could all be considered aggressive batsmen with Rogers the only pure accumulator in the side following the retirement of Michael Hussey. By contrast, England would contend only Pietersen and Prior are built in an ‘all or nothing’ mould whilst South Africa have the composed Kallis, du Plessis, Elgar and Petersen scattered throughout the order. A focus on improving balance and cultivating players whose natural game involves patience to offset the natural stroke-makers Australia seemingly always posses is essential.
This may be where Australia’s – and Hick’s – greatest challenge lies, but there are few players more equipped to develop patient, prolific run-scorers than the veteran of 526 First-Class matches.