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Hick proves hit for England

Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

17 August 1998

A WHITE pitch, a sunny day, a shimmering Lord's and, best of all, an England bowling display of the highest quality. They demolished Sri Lanka in the second match of the Emirates triangular tournament, winning by 36 runs despite a batting performance which failed to make the most of a commanding 86 by Graeme Hick, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

To have won so easily despite having lost their last seven wickets for 24, albeit in circumstances very different from the collapse in the Lord's Test in June, was remarkable. There is room for improvement still, but England will have to play very poorly against South Africa at Edgbaston tomorrow if they are not to return to Lord's for the final on Thursday. Net run rate would decide if all three sides have won one game.

Not that England, in their current attempt to make winning a habit, are in a mood to let anyone defeat them. Happy days, it seems are here again. Certainly, with every day that passes the gloom so freely pedalled by the Jeremiahs during the Old Trafford Test six weeks ago is becoming more clearly exposed as an absurd exaggeration.

By the same token, England's performances in the field will not always be as good as yesterday's. Having made a decent score, but no more, on an excellent pitch with sufficient pace for the strokeplayers to prosper and the new ball to smack into the 'keeper's gloves, they won because Darren Gough, Peter Martin and Alan Mullally all got some swing and cut with the white ball. In 12 overs they reduced the Sri Lankans to 49 for four before Ian Austin, plucked from the heat of a Roses match into what Lancastrians of old would have seen as some tuppeny-halfpenny bunfight in fancy clothing, performed like the solid professional he in every sense is.

The result was another small triumph for England selectors whose stock is rising. It would have made little difference, perhaps, if the place vacated by the injured Mark Ealham had gone to his Kent colleague Matthew Fleming, who will now occupy Dean Headley's reserve place on Tuesday, but England will again want at least three front-line seam bowlers. The early domination which the specialist new ball bowlers established would probably not have been achieved by the bowlers used by England in Sharjah last December.

The latest theory about the reason for the greater swing which bowlers can achieve with the white Duke ball is that it is finished with a polyurathane lacquer, to prevent it becoming dirty, rather than with buck's fat. Whatever the reason, on a clear day and a true pitch there was sufficient movement to justify the preference for serious bowlers.

England discovered after Sri Lanka had unwisely put them in that too many risks with the bat would also be counter-productive. Alistair Brown hit a couple of rousing strokes before miscueing to extra cover and Nick Knight managed only one lofted straight drive for four in his 28 balls before he, too, was caught in the covers.

The answer was bold, assertive but orthodox strokeplay and Hick and Alec Stewart supplied it in full measure. One can usually tell whether Hick is in a positive mood and he timed the ball with style and authority from the outset, giving a welcome echo of another innings of 86 here on a similarly sunny day against the West Indies in 1991, when Neil Fairbrother batted so well in his company that Denis Compton ever after believed he should be England's Test No 4.

Pramodya Wickremasinghe again bowled to a full length and he and Suresh Perera got some briskish swing but Stewart and Hick managed 76 together in 15 overs before Stewart was outwitted by Sanath Jayaruriya, who saw him advancing and passed him on the outside. He hit the stumps twice more with quicker balls which hustled through the defences of Austin and Adam Hollioake but not before Hick and Nasser Hussain had ensured a decent total with another stand of substance, 91 off 19 overs.

Hick batted especially well against Muttiah Muralitharan's off-breaks and he lifted an off-cutter from Kumara Dharmasena high into the Grand Stand, but the shot of the day was Hussain's straight driven six off 'Murali' into the second balcony of the pavilion.

Hick was dropped at 74, Hussain at 29 and Stewart survived a hard caught and bowled at 41. On the other hand, a quick throw from fine leg by Marvan Atapattu and slick glovework by Kaluwitharana ran Hick out with five overs left and thereby made the target perhaps 15 runs fewer than it might have been. It did not stop Hick from getting the man-of-the-match award.

England's 247 was no better than par but Sri Lanka's pursuit soon ran into trouble. Kaluwitharana drove at a late out-swinger, Jayasuriya edged to first slip and Atapattu was half forward to an off-cutter.

Russel Arnold played on to Mullally's sixth ball, leaving the vastly experienced Aravinda de Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga with much to do. It became too much when de Silva played across a straight ball to give Austin an important first international wicket. After that the limit of Sri Lanka's ambitions was to bat as long as possible, with net run rate - average runs per over for and against - in mind. England, who expect Angus Fraser to be fit tomorrow, should have no such concerns.

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Date-stamped : 17 Aug1998 - 10:46