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The Electronic Telegraph Warm-up Match: Hampshire v England
Michael Henderson - 11 May 1999

Hick in a hurry as Knight gets the nod

England (92-1) bt Hampshire (91) by 9 wkts

There were no collywobbles this time for England, as they completed their World Cup preparations with a third successive victory, and by far the most convincing, in helpful bowling conditions on a blustery day.

Hampshire proved the weakest of the county sides they have played, so weak that the game ended in mid-afternoon as Graeme Hick assumed a mastery at the crease that was utterly beyond everybody else.

Hick's unbeaten 65 from 66 balls brought some comfort to the England camp after Nick Knight had gone for a second-ball duck, although David Lloyd, the coach, was swift to emphasise that the Warwickshire man would still go in first against Sri Lanka at Lord's on Friday. ``We are not looking to dismantle the side at the moment,'' he said.

For that vote of confidence Knight is already in the selectors' debt. He is woefully short of runs, and it is up to him to justify the hope they have invested in him. ``Looking round,'' said Lloyd, considering the performances of England's rivals, ``there are plenty of others coming into this tournament short of runs.''

If that does not amount to a ringing endorsement, Lloyd is nevertheless quite right. Knight deserves another chance. Should he fail against Sri Lanka, and against Kenya at Canterbury next Tuesday, the selectors can reach for the shepherd's crook.

``He feels all right,'' said Lloyd. ``He feels that his form is good, but he keeps getting out. He is working hard, and in his own mind he is not down.''

Alec Stewart, the other batsman short of runs, was 20 not out when Hick ended the game with successive boundaries, and in the desert of his form that represents a veritable oasis. He will surely feel better for the time spent in the middle, and try to convince himself that a good score is round the next corner. He might also be quite relieved that this ``phoney war'' of domestic engagements is over and the World Cup can, at long last, start.

Despite protestations beforehand not to read too much into the selection, England fielded their first team yesterday in all but name. ``That was as close as it is going to get,'' said Lloyd. Unless they feel that Robert Croft is going to provide a service they cannot do without at Lord's, the order will be, ``same again, boys''.

Ian Austin has won the nod ahead of Angus Fraser, who is still troubled with a knee injury. On soft English pitches at this time of year there are few bowlers as effective as the Haslingden man, and if they remain damp, his deceptive medium-pacers will become an important weapon in England's armoury.

He could hardly have bowled more steadily than he did here, after Stewart won the toss. In his first and fourth overs he won appeals for leg before, and when he came off four overs later he had conceded neither a boundary, nor a no-ball, nor a wide. He is the 'Steady Eddie' of this team, the underrated bowler who offers batsmen few easy runs, and who has the enviable knack of taking big wickets.

It was a good day for all the bowlers, as the ball jagged around off the pitch and through the air. Alan Mul- lally, restored to the team after missing the game at Chelmsford, ended up with four wickets. There were a couple for Mark Ealham and one each for Darren Gough and Andrew Flintoff as Hick's big hands snaffled catches at slip.

When Knight was caught behind off Simon Renshaw's second ball, Hick was marching out to join his captain, and he was swiftly into his stride. For a while all Stewart could do was stand at the other end and watch as Hick advanced the score on his own. He picked up Renshaw for six over midwicket and then drove the bowler straight for half a dozen more into the television gantry.

By the time Hick reached his half-century, Stewart had got as far as 12. Placidly, he plodded on until his partner's final flourish, reckoning that every ball he faced paved another brick on the road towards the rediscovery of his best form.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
Editorial comments can be sent to The Electronic Telegraph at et@telegraph.co.uk