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The Wisden Verdict by Freddie Auld
April 3, 2004
"Don't forget Matthew Hoggard," insisted Michael Vaughan during the press conference after England's win in Trinidad. Well, not many will forget him now after his magnificent hat-trick this morning at Bridgetown. It was as heroic and hair-raising as Darren Gough's at Sydney in 1998-99, but unlike Gough's, Hoggard's paved the way for a host of historical landmarks. England not so much stormed the Bridgetown fortress, as strolled in and out.
Stephen Harmison stole the show in Jamaica, Simon Jones came of age in Trinidad, and then Andrew Flintoff thrilled the crowd on the opening day here with his fantastic five-for. The showmen were starring while their sidekick stood in the shadows. But today was Hoggard's turn to take centre stage.
His hat-trick - the tenth in Tests by an England bowler, and the third against West Indies - was by no means undeserved, and his place in the record books is a fitting reward for all his hard work. He's taken only 13 wickets in the series so far, compared to Harmison's 22, but his consistently probing length has been the key to his success, as it was today for those three significant strikes. That frantic five minutes changed the mood of the game and the crowd, as Graham Thorpe's innings did yesterday. And you could see how much it meant to Hoggard, who looked close to tears as he rushed towards his ecstatic team-mates. Even Duncan Fletcher was forced to let out another grin.
This series is the first time this England attack have lined up together in Tests. They have quickly developed into a functional yet flexible unit, all with different abilities to suit different conditions. They have also literally stood head and shoulders above their counterparts, one of the reasons for their sweeping success.
While all four of England's quicks are well over six feet tall, the West Indies attack look like dwarves by comparison. The likes of Harmison and Flintoff are able to bang the best out of the pitch, coming down from a height. They can bounce and bully batsmen out - just like Curtly and Courtney did in what must now seem like a lifetime ago for West Indian fans. But for all the huff and puff of the energetic Fidel Edwards and the enthusiastic Tino Best, their pint-sized physiques mean they're going to find it much harder to blow batsmen down.
But what must Brian Lara be thinking? He was out on the ground 20 minutes before the start of play, assessing the conditions and preparing for his mammoth task ahead. But it didn't make any difference. It's not just his poor form that's letting him down, but his feeble friends, and he cut a lonely figure watching his side crumble around him. Lara could only roll his eyes and look to the heavens when the out-of-his-depth Daren Ganga finally drowned. And if he thought that was bad, he had to have a little lie down after Hoggard's hat-trick - the only thing missing was a darkened room (perhaps West Indies' dressing-room will do).
It was up to Lara to do a Thorpe and eke out some valuable runs from the tail, but England's bowlers didn't allow him that luxury. They battered and bruised him with well-controlled aggression until he had had enough, tamely spooning Harmison to Vaughan, who fittingly took the catch which in effect sealed his side's deserved win.
It is the first time since the 1976-77 Indian tour that England have won the first three Tests of a series, not to mention the end of that 36-year hoodoo. These are just a couple of the stats which signal that another pillar of West Indian cricket has come tumbling down. Lara skulked off as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, and with an embarrassing whitewash now a distinct possibility, you have to wonder how much more he can take.
Freddie Auld is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.