March 24, 2017

Ramprakash and Hick: the men who know

Two so-called unfulfilled talents are now at the top of the tree in coaching batsmen. Does that compute?
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Mark Ramprakash has guided a number of England batsmen in making great strides forward © Getty Images

It's June 6, 1991, England v West Indies, Headingley. Under graphite skies, Graeme Hick plays his first Test innings and bats for 51 minutes before he is caught by Jeff Dujon off the bowling of Courtney Walsh for 6. Mark Ramprakash passes him on the outfield on the way to play his first Test innings. He bats for 142 minutes before he is caught by Carl Hooper off the bowling of Malcolm Marshall for 27.

It's November 20, 2016, India v England, Visakhapatnam. In nuclear heat, Haseeb Hameed plays his fourth Test innings. He bats for 188 minutes and faces 144 deliveries before he is dismissed lbw by R Ashwin for 25.

It's March 20, 2017, India v Australia, Ranchi. Under cloudless skies, Shaun Marsh plays his 40th Test innings. He bats for 236 minutes and 197 deliveries before he is caught by M Vijay off the bowling of Ravindra Jadeja for 53. Peter Handscomb plays his 13th Test innings. He bats for 261 minutes and 200 deliveries and is 72 not out at close of play.

Ramprakash and Hick lived for years in the strange psychological hinterland where batting exists

The Headingley Test was supposed to be a significant moment for English batting, and in one way it was - in the second innings of the match Graham Gooch made his famous 154 not out, often rated the best Test innings ever played by an Englishman. But we already knew about Gooch. Ramprakash and Hick were new stars, players to stir the soul, ready to sit at the very highest table. Instead, in their separate ways, they were broken on the wheel of English cricket in the 1990s, made living symbols of what went wrong, misrepresented and misunderstood. Added together, their Test averages are lower than Steve Smith's. Joe Root has already made three more Test centuries than they did combined.

Even today, Ramprakash's ESPNcricinfo profile begins: "A batsman of rare talent, combining a classically English technique with an un-English intensity, Mark Ramprakash is nonetheless in danger of ending up as unfulfilled as Graeme Hick, with whom he shared a Test debut."

Somehow they are locked together by their Test careers, and not by their wider contribution to batting. They are the last two men to score a hundred hundreds, and very probably the last two ever to achieve that mark. Between them they made 76,771 first-class runs, and in doing it, they experienced every nuance of every high, every low and every quotidian moment that any batsman can experience. They lived for years in the strange psychological hinterland where batting exists.

A good coach should probably know as much about failure as about success © Getty Images

And now Ramprakash and Hick are batting coaches to England and Australia respectively, the men trusted to get their hands in the engine and fine-tune the techniques and psyches of the cream of modern batting. It is fascinating, although not surprising, that they have risen to these heights. They were both, in their way, obsessed with the craft. And it is probably a necessary quality in a coach to understand as much about failure as they do about success. They have to know what it is like to inhabit that place of doubt and fear, and they do.

In an era of revolution in batting technique, they must stick to its constant truths, especially in the Test game. At elite level they coach only the fine edges of technique, a tweak here, a shift there, sculptors shaving off the last small pieces of marble. Gooch's great dictum, "I don't coach batting, I coach run-scoring" holds true. Root, with whom Ramprakash worked intensively before he made his 254 against Pakistan last summer, defined the coach's qualities as extreme detail on building an innings, a deep analysis of bowlers, and offering just enough information for the batsman to consider without cluttering his mind. The pair also added a small adjustment in stance and guard to compensate for Pakistan's three left-arm seamers, all of whom posed subtly different problems.

And here was Hick, newly signed to a four-season contract as Australia's batting coach (an appointment you would have got long odds on at the turn of the century) speaking about Australia's tour of India: "At times maybe the Australian way is to really dominate. In Test cricket the daily run rate has increased a lot. Maybe India is a place where you need a little bit more patience. The teams that have been successful there recently have been guys who have got big runs up front.

It is fascinating, although not surprising, that Ramprakash and Hick have risen to these heights. They were both, in their way, obsessed with the craft

"If one of our top order get in, batting a couple of sessions maybe is not enough. You've got to look to post a big first-innings score and take that responsibility if you get in. That may require a little bit more patience than maybe some of the players would normally play at."

Strike one for Graeme Hick.

This week Tom Harrison has tasked Joe Root with playing "exciting cricket" - whatever that is (well, it's a little unfair to carp, you know what he meant). But the Test match game is a vast place with infinite capacity for small but vital variables that have sustained it for hundreds of years. The three recent innings I picked out at the top of this piece gained more Twitter traffic and newspaper comment than dozens of brisk workaday hundreds, because they were calibrated to the balance of the games they were played in. They were also different enough to the norm to, in their way, cause the strange kind of excitement in not much happening at which Test cricket excels.

Ramprakash and Hick know enough about batting to understand where Hameed, Marsh and Handscomb had to go to play those innings, a place of both technique and of sacrifice of the ego. It's hard to bat for hours, look up at the board and see that you've scored 20 runs. Batting is about making a deal with failure, accepting it into your life. In his book Who Wants To Be A Batsman, Simon Hughes wrote: "batting can be a head-f***". It can. So it pays to ask the men that know.

Jon Hotten blogs at The Old Batsman. @theoldbatsman

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Insult_2_Injury on April 1, 2017, 5:32 GMT

    Hicks comment about Australia needing to instil in batsmen that they have to be the one to bat for more than a couple of sessions to post large scores which essentially set up wins for games is also one of the problems in coaching today. Hick was made batting coach because of his batting resume. Therefore his style will reflect that experience. So, for god sake, get rid of the may, possibly, probably from the explanation and state what the program is and the expectation of the hierarchy for players roles in particular situations and conditions. I, for one, agree with Hick, we need batsmen prepared to build partnerships and bat for a day, but we need officials to be categorical when explaining themselves too. It is tiresome with this whole 'hedging our bets' speak in sports now and it is all based on having an out when criticised. Speak your piece and stand by it when questioned.

  • cricfan0419944008 on March 27, 2017, 2:36 GMT

    Grame Hick was one of the finest batsmen of his era

  • pReNUp on March 26, 2017, 3:42 GMT

    Well, HIck, Ramprakash and even Thorpe severe badly handled by the ECG during the 90s. There were n number of players who would have gone and played good cricket if they were professional in those days.

  • cricfan21278003 on March 26, 2017, 0:13 GMT

    Bill .... 'those who can't teach..' Would that explain why the world's best bowling coach is Alan Donald; or why the world's best batting coach is Graham Gooch; or the best fielding coach, Jonty Rhodes; or why Liverpool FC's academy players are being revitalised by Steven Gerrard.

    ....There's an old maxim, Bill: 'if you've got nothing sensible to say, then say nothing'.

  • cloudmess on March 25, 2017, 20:34 GMT

    As for why they underachieved, Ramps was like a concert pianist in his approach to batting - a technical perfectionist, who needed certain factors to be in his favour in order to succeed. He could be upset by the unexpected. Hick just lacked a bit of ruthlessness at the highest level and he did have some technical flaws too. Each of them had a short period where they looked the part in test matches - Hick in 1993 - 95, and Ramps in 1998. We are still talking about two brilliant players here. Other past England players like Rhodes, Hirst and CB Fry are still celebrated, despite not doing much at international level. WG Grace averaged 32 in test cricket. It's not the be all and end all. As for coaching, I'd imagine Ramps would be very good at the technical side of things, spotting flaws and fixing them. The psychological side is not something which can so easily be taught.

  • cloudmess on March 25, 2017, 20:21 GMT

    I don't agree with this thing that they weren't given a chance. Ramprakash on debut played the entire 6 test matches of the 1991 summer despite never reaching 30. Hick similarly failed to put together any decent scores in the first 2 years of his career, and yet played in almost all of England's test matches of 1991 and 92 (check the records).

  • HNKP on March 25, 2017, 17:40 GMT

    As batsmen Hick and Ramprakash were miles apart. Ramprakash played well and was never bothered by good bowling. He used to score up to 27 or 28 and then gets out but Hick was not that comfortable against pacers.

  • Vindaliew on March 25, 2017, 16:06 GMT

    I still wonder how Hick managed that 86 not out in the ODIs prior to the Tests. Marshall, Walsh and Ambrose giving him a false sense of security, perhaps? Ramprakash did fairly well in that debut series, though - other than Gooch and Smith, Ramps was the only one who wasn't a walking wicket, even if he failed to pass 30. The time he spent occupying the crease was match-shaping, and without it Gooch would never have scored as many as 154. Sadly he failed in the one-off Test against Sri Lanka (he only got to bat once) and after that was dropped. If he had gone on to play New Zealand things might have been so different.

  •   Venkatesh Venkatesh on March 25, 2017, 10:42 GMT

    Hick was flat track fully his record against quality bowling attack was very poor and often turns around his arm once in a while whereas Ramprakash again was not all a treat to any opposition scored his runs once in blue moon when his position in team was started questioned apart from bowling of Hick there was no difference at all in their approach . S.Marsh and Handscomb were two really good middle order batsman's , Handcomb all ready proved his mettle against three different playing nations but Marsh wasting his talent because his lack of concentration as well as his habit other than cricket . Certainly both Marsh & Handcomd are much better and talented in comparison with Hick & Ramprakash. Coaching is different aspect in fact some good coaches never represented their countries in any format of the game except playing first cricket for short time

  • jackiethepen on March 25, 2017, 10:04 GMT

    I think this is fanciful in the extreme. They weren't handed one off Tests or even a handful. Ramps played 52 Tests and Hick 65 Tests - for some England batsmen that is an entire career - averaging 27 and 31 respectively. Only talent and County records kept them in the Test arena that long. As for coaching, since when has a world class batsman become a coach? It is a rarity. As has been said, teaching isn't playing, or remotely like it. It is a gift in itself. It takes a special kind of patience and ability to understand how to impart knowledge. I'm sure both Hick and Ramps have a lot to give in that respect. What can't be taught by them is the ability to survive at the highest level. That can be imparted by good captains. Strauss was particularly good at keeping the minds of his players level and grounded. To weld a brilliant team takes more than coaching. But in the end cricket is a lonely individual art as well as a team sport. No escape from the spotlight for international batsmen.

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