You might have seen that we’ve gone a bit hundred-crazy in this month’s AOC . And, as a long-term object of AOC’s adoration and a remorseless century accumulator, who better to verse us on the art of racking up tons than Graeme Hick? Jo Harman spoke to the man who sits second on the all-time list of century makers in professional cricket.
Do you remember your first ton?
Yeah, I scored my first century aged six playing for the colts team at Jacobs School against another district school out in the sticks in Zimbabwe. I think I got 104 or 106. I don’t remember much more than that but my dad’s kept a record of it.
Did you score a lot of centuries at that age?
No not really, we played a few matches at that age but not a lot. I think I got my next one when I was eight, playing against another school in Harare – I might have scored 132. These were afternoon matches that would start about midday or 1 o’clock and the batting team would set a total and then declare.
Were you someone who got nervous in the 90s?
I did for a while because on occasions I did get out in the 90s, playing loose shots or trying to get there with a four. But I don’t think I got as nervous as some people I’ve seen. I used to just tell myself ‘Well, I’ve batted for three or four hours, so what’s another five minutes?’ Then I’d get my head down and try and get the hundred.
Are there any occasions where you got out just short of a century that still bug you now?
I got out twice in the 90s in Test matches against West Indies: once for 96 in Jamaica after I thought I’d batted really well in a really difficult situation, with Walsh and Ambrose running in; and then also at The Oval I got out on 96.
Were you someone who could still take a lot of satisfaction from scoring a 90-odd or was reaching three figures the be all and end all?
Certainly in Test matches there were a few occasions, I think I had three or four 90s and a couple in the late 80s, where I’d done a lot of hard work to get there and to miss out… I suppose it’s just that I didn’t the score the hundreds that I wanted to in Test cricket and not making those hundreds made a massive difference. But I still think I got most satisfaction out of my runs if I felt they made a contribution to winning the game. It didn’t need to be a hundred. I got a 60 and a 40 in a Melbourne Test match that we won where Dean Headley took 10 wickets and the bowlers bowled really well to win us the match, but I was quite pleased with my contribution in a low scoring game. It wasn’t always just about the volume of runs. I’d rather get a good 80 and win the game than get a hundred and lose the game, especially in county cricket. An international hundred is invaluable to have, but deep down I think I would have still preferred to win a Test.
Can you remember each and every one of your 178 career tons?
No, I can’t. Just the other day someone told me that I had three triple hundreds and I couldn’t remember the third one. Which is surprising, but I just couldn’t picture it! If people start talking to you about an innings you can recollect it but no, I wouldn’t say I remember all of them.
Of the ones you do remember, which do you recall most fondly?
I think my best innings was for England against South Africa when I scored 141 on the opening day of the Test series. You obviously judge your performances against playing at the highest level and that was the best I’ve played. Other ones that spring to mind are my 405 [against Somerset in 1988] and I also got a very good double hundred the week before that against Lancashire on a turning wicket, where the next highest score was 48 or 49 in the match. I played pretty well that game. There were also a couple of innings when Worcestershire went on to win the Championship in ’88 and ’89 when I scored hundreds in important games and set up victories. At Worcester against Somerset I got 136 in a run chase in a game we needed to win with only a couple of games to go in the season.
Which is the best bowling attack you scored a century against?
I suppose it would be that 141, which came against Donald, Pollock, Brian McMillan and a left-armer called Brett Schultz, who was quite quick. I got a hundred against West Indies at Trent Bridge in 1995 but it wasn’t the hardest West Indian attack that I played against, although Ambrose and Walsh were still around. In terms of the hardest bowler I faced, Wasim Akram was someone who always had the measure of me.
Was your quadruple century four times as enjoyable, or just exhausting?
It was just enjoyable! I was 22, I was young; there was no reason to be tired. It was a four-day game, I batted for nine hours and I had big partnerships along the way, which we kept me going. We had a good late, middle order with [Steve] Rhodes, [Richard] Illingworth and [Phil] Newport all getting runs and I ran everyone else’s runs as hard as my own. You don’t really feel tired when something that exciting is happening. I remember taking a couple of wickets at the end of the day after we’d declared and they were as satisfying as the runs!
How do you explain the fact that you were able to score more centuries than anyone else ever, besides the great Jack Hobbs?
I felt I had a very simple method to my batting. I was pretty disciplined and patient and I felt more often than not I just took what was given to me. From fairly early on in first-class cricket I managed to create a presence at the crease and I think bowlers felt under pressure bowling against me and I got maybe a few more bad balls than other people. I loved batting for long periods of time and batting gets easier the longer you’re at the wicket. I got more frustrated getting out on 180 or 190 than I would do on 60 or 70 if I knew there was still plenty of time to bat; by then it was pretty easy, you knew the bowlers didn’t really want to bowl at you and you’d done the hard work and could start to enjoy yourself.
Are you still churning out the centuries these days?
I just play fun stuff, nothing serious. I tend to go down the order these days and don’t have time to get to three figures!