Richard Illingworth (left) rushes to congratulate Graeme Hick, but opposition captain Peter Roebuck beats him to it © Getty Images
Richard Illingworth rushes to congratulate Graeme Hick, but opposition captain Peter Roebuck beats him to it © Getty Images

May 6, 1988. Graeme Hick scripted history by becoming the first man to score a quadruple century in England since Archie MacLaren’s 1895 effort for Lancashire. Arunabha Sengupta revisits the day when the 21-year-old Zimbabwean batsman displayed immense promise which unfortunately remained unfulfilled at the highest level.

“He used a bat so broad that bowlers felt as if they were trying to knock down a tank with a pea-shooter,” Somerset skipper Peter Roebuck once said of Graeme Hick.

The conditions were by no means loaded in favour of the batsmen, neither was the bowling easy to score off. Worcestershire’s Zimbabwean recruit Graeme Hick had walked out at the fall of Gordon Lord’s wicket. The ball was nipping about and the rest of them were getting nicks and edges aplenty. As Hick had stood at the other end, Tim Curtis and Damian D’Oliveira had departed at 112, captain Phil Neale had got a duck and the legendary Ian Botham had walked back for just 7. At that stage, Worcestershire were 132 for five and the astute Roebuck was busy tightening the noose. For most of the innings on that day and the next, the fielding never flagged and the bowling remained tight.

Ninety three years ago at the same Taunton county ground, things had been a lot different when Archie MacLaren had opened the innings for Lancashire. Somerset on that occasion had been led by Sammy Woods, and the team had been a motley combination of some reputed players appended by others whose proficiency lay elsewhere, far away from the cricket field. For the five weeks preceding the match, MacLaren had not faced a bowler over 14 years of age. He had got a scare off the first ball of the match bowled by Ted Tyler. But after that, the journey had been smooth. The man who had finally dismissed MacLaren had been Herbert Gamlin, picked on account of his being good in rugby. By then the future captain of England had amassed 424.

Since that day in 1895, no one else had managed a quadruple century in England. There had been Bill Ponsford, who had done it twice at Melbourne. Don Bradman had romped to 452 at Sydney. They had been followed by BB Nimbalkar at Poona, and Hanif Mohammad and Aftab Baloch at Karachi. But, never again had four hundred been plundered on English grounds since MacLaren in 1895.

And now, with his team in some sort of a crisis situation, 21-year-old Graeme Hick amassed 405 with clinical perfection, moving from hundred to hundred with absolutely no indication of the immenseness of the effort.

Roebuck wrote later in Wisden Cricket Monthly: “I never saw Walter Hammond bat, but I imagine he was something like this — authoritative, commanding, civil and durable. Once or twice his leg shots were lifted but they were hit with a power that was efficient rather than savage and they thundered through or over the field.”

Optimised economy of effort

Of course, the Taunton ground was always ideal for the big innings.The short straight boundaries meant even mishits landing in the graveyard at one end and the River Tone at the other. There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, of a boat stationed in the river to retrieve balls on some of the days when Viv Richards turned out for Somerset. Indeed, three years earlier, the Antiguan great had blasted 322 against Warwickshire.

Hicks’s innings was not nearly that murderous. He did have the cushion of an extra day. The Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB) were experimenting with four-day cricket. In the summer of 1988, six of the 22 matches in the one-division County Championship were four-day games. The Warwickshire-Somerset match was one of them. This meant that batsmen could bat for close to two days without reducing the matches to stalemates. Already Graham Gooch had plundered 275 off Kent. Hick himself had taken 212 off hapless Lancashire bowlers at Old Trafford.

The Taunton ground aside, the other common factor between MacLaren’s effort and the innings of Hick was the first ball scare. There had been a man stationed just behind square when he had come in and Roebuck had toyed with the idea of bringing him closer. Hick had clipped the first ball in the air and it had fallen short of square-leg. A few minutes later he had almost played on. But from then on he did not make a mistake till he was dropped in the gully at 148. A fortnight later, in the return game, Hick was caught twice by the gully fielder. However, in this game, he was not in the mood to give another inch.

It was an innings of perfect rather than pulverising methods. The technique remained simple, with the bat mostly held absolutely straight. The six-foot-three-inch batsman stood calm and unhurried, the foot came to the pitch of the ball, the drives followed hard and effortless, booming through cover and mid-off. He cut late and with finesse. Sometimes strokes were lofted over mid-on and mid-wicket, but always with calculated efficiency. Anything full was driven down the ground. If too straight, they were clipped off his legs. Bowlers were not destroyed, but scored off with optimised economy of effort. One mistake from Hick and the team would have been all out for a poor score. But he stood there, not letting any ball through, scoring a steady seventy per session with uncanny regularity. And even after hours at the wicket, he was running hard — not only for himself but also his partners.

At stumps at the end of the first day, Hick was on 179. Worcestershire stood on 312 for 5 with wicketkeeper Steve Rhodes at the other end. Rhodes later recalled: “He puts the bad ball away more efficiently than anyone. I just tried to blunt the attack. It was a pleasure to run his runs for him.”

At the start of the match, the main excitement had been centred around Botham. The legend was turning out against his former county side, after the disputes surrounding the sacking of Viv Richards and Joel Garner had induced him to leave Somerset. But, by the end of the first day, however, the focus had shifted to Hick.

The team celebrated in a Chinese restaurant that evening, and Hick, never a big drinker, sat with a pint of lager. Roebuck came in and joked that the drink would get him quickly the next morning.

The wicket was fresh and the ball moved around early on Day Two. Hick concentrated hard to stay in. It was not until he was well past 200 that strokes were hit in the air with regularity. Still, he continued to be clinical rather than brutal. When off spinner Vic Marks, hit over mid-on twice, pushed the man down to long-on, Hick drove along the ground for singles. It was when he was on 288 that he hit medium pacer Colin Dredge for two straight sixes to reach his triple hundred. Those were the first strokes of audacity.

After 300, the tempo changed completely. Sensing declaration in the offing, Hick went after everything. By then the bowling was tired, and Roebuck himself came on to bowl some out-swingers.Worcestershire skipper Neale, who had intended to declare soon after Hick’s triple-hundred, now suddenly found him racing along to his quadruple. It was under his captaincy that Glenn Turner had scored 311, the highest-ever for Worcestershire. Now Neale watched as Hick went past the record and continued to pile on the runs. By now, sixes rained on the on-side and the game resembled a benefit match.

It had taken Hick 411 balls to get to 300. The next 105 runs were plundered in just 70 minutes and 58 balls. He had batted 555 minutes and hit 35 fours and 11 sixes when Neale finally called the batsmen in at 628 for 7. Hick had scored 405 out of the 550 runs compiled while he had been at the wicket.

Neale had also closed the innings in 1982 when Glenn Turner had scored the unbeaten 311, and the New Zealand batsman had been happy to come off because blisters had started to trouble him.

Graeme Hick, en route his famous 405 © Getty Images
Graeme Hick, en route his famous 405 © Getty Images

Hick, on the other hand, looked absolutely fresh.Chronicler David Foot penned the moment of his exit as: “He should be drained with traces of elation etching through his weariness. Instead he walks with a brisk step, the face offers not a flicker of emotion as the smallish crowd, belatedly sensing the proximity of cricketing history, converges to applaud. He passes not more than a yard away and there is not the merest evidence of perspiration on his cheeks and forehead. He could be out for a walk along Worcestershire’s River Severn.” Indeed, as Vic Marks wrote later, at that historic moment the correspondent looked more dishevelled than the batsman.

It would have probably taken another over or two for Hick to go past MacLaren, but Neale wanted to go for a win. In the end the haste proved largely unnecessary, as the match barely lasted till the fourth morning.

What followed?

Following the adage of chucking the ball to the man who had scored most of the runs, Neale brought Hick on soon enough to send down his off-breaks. And the young man removed Nigel Felton and Richard Harden that evening. He took another wicket in the second innings and Worcestershire won by an innings early on the fourth morning.

Sadly, although he remained a giant in the county circuit, Hick could seldom live up to the promise in Test cricket. The West Indian paceman charged full throttle at him during his first forays at the highest level. Only one half-century came in his first twelve Tests and his career never quite recovered.

Brief scores:

Worcestershire 628 for 7 decl. (Gordon Lord 49, Graeme Hick 405*, Steve Rhodes 56) beat Somerset 222 (Vic Marks 42, Neal Radford 4 for 77, Phil Newport 4 for 59) and 192 (Martin Crowe 53, Phil Newport 6 for 50) by an innings and 214 runs.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)