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Somewhere between Hamilton and Wellington, two crew members were thrown overboard from the good ship England and told they’d have to swim for it. Steve Harmison swam strongly enough to catch up and be hauled back on board, but with the announcement that he will not be getting a central contract, Matthew Hoggard’s Test career looks over.
As a Hoggard fan I am saddened; as a Yorkshire fan, hopeful that he will think it worth carrying on to keep taking 40 or 50 championship wickets a season at 24; as an England fan, I’m delighted that the transition was timed so brilliantly. It was pretty obvious from the first few times we saw him that Jimmy Anderson would one day take over as our premier swing bowler, and the performances he’s put in this year are evidence of a baton being passed with an efficiency the Great Britain 4x100m track teams could usefully study. Just as the Hoggster runs out of steam, the lad from Burnley is off and running hard
Hoggard is the kind of sporting hero we English treasure: self-deprecating, a wholehearted trier, and not quite world-class.
The featherbeds and billiard tables which so often pass for Test pitches these days offered him little help when he used the old ball. Later on, he developed a (slightly) slower ball and some cutters, so he could be brought on in the 50th over without risking too much carnage, but before 2005 or so he could be as much liability as asset once the ball lost its shine. He was cannon fodder for the likes of Matthew Hayden (in Australia), unless bowling negatively as on the “Bore Them Out” tour of 2001-2, when Hoggy bowled as far outside off stump as Ashley Giles pitched outside leg and the whole of India snored.
After that tour, Nasser Hussain said Hoggard was a dream to captain because he was the kind of guy who would run through walls for you – he never gave up. The other great thing about him was his dependability; you always knew what you were going to get from him. He was as predictable and as reliably satisfying as the full monty breakfast in your favourite caff.
His old-ball stuff may have been mediocre (I don’t care much for the tomatoes anyway), but the meat of his bowling was with a new ball.
By his own account, he just ran up and ‘wanged’ it down the other end, but that is taking modesty too far: he is much more skilful than that implies. The deftness with which he executed the three-card trick on Hayden (in England) and Graeme Smith (anywhere) suggests that he can make a fine post-cricket living fleecing gullible punters at fairgrounds with a Find The Lady stand.
Being a new-ball specialist overseas when the Kookaburra ball is used almost everywhere bar England and India seems like an impossible task, but his two best matches were abroad.
The first was in Christchurch in 2001-2, when his opening spell, broken after three overs by close of play and after another ten by lunch on the following day, read 20-7-59-5. He came back later to mop up the tail, ending with 7 for 63. In the second innings, both sets of batsmen went gloriously wild with Thorpe and Astle scoring two of the four fastest double hundreds in Test history, but the first innings lead Hoggard had ensured with magnificent swing bowling saw England home.
‘Hoggard’s Match’ though, was Johannesburg 2005. He took a fearful clattering from Herschelle Gibbs, who was in rollicking form, but disposed of most of the rest of the top order for very little, ending the innings with 5-144 and restricting South Africa's lead to 8. A commanding 180 from Trescothick set South Africa a possibly gettable target of 325, but again it was only Gibbs who could make a fight of it. Three wickets in Hoggard’s first five overs set SA back on their heels, and his eventual career best 7-61 clinched England’s first series victory in South Africa for forty years.
When he goes to the great cricket ground in the sky, he won’t be eligible for membership of the Great Players CC, but Johannesburg will earn him an invitation to turn out for their XI as a guest for one match.
He will be heartbroken that it’s over, but Matthew Hoggard can be proud of a worthy Test career.
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