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December 3, 2006
Matthew Hoggard was tired but satisfied with a hard day's toil, as England's bowlers built on the best efforts of their batsmen in the second Test at Adelaide. In spite of yet another big hundred from Ricky Ponting, Hoggard persevered for a marathon 22 overs in the day, taking all four of the Australian wickets to fall, including Ponting himself for a gritty 142.
"It was a very satisfying performance," said Hoggard afterwards. "It was going to be hard work today because the pitch wasn't very responsive, and we had to put the ball in the right areas to put pressure on the batsman. But there's a great team spirit in the camp and we bowled well as a unit, unlike we did at Brisbane."
Hoggard admitted he had had to draw on all his experience and success in Indian conditions to keep the Australian batsmen pinned down, even during the course of Ponting and Michael Hussey's 192-run stand for the third wicket. "It was a typical subcontinent pitch," he said. "Not too bouncy, not too quick, not a lot for the bowlers. We just had to sit in and be patient."
For long periods with the ageing ball, Hoggard operated with Geraint Jones stood up to the stumps and close catchers in front of the wicket, just to keep the Australian batsmen on their toes. "They were batting a yard outside their crease, so it was a good ploy to keep them back and put them into a situation they are not used to."
It was a tough spell of bowling that he went about with good humour, though like any self-respecting fast bowler he was entitled to a little chunter by the end of the day. When asked why Steve Harmison had bowled just 13 overs in the day, he gave a convoluted response that included several stock clichés about hard work and constant improvement, before abandoning with a grimace and saying instead: "Ever-Ready bunny over here seemed to bowl every time the captain wanted someone to bowl."
Still, he seemed happy enough to have reaped the rewards. "I felt in better rhythm than at Brisbane, so I just closed my eyes and wanged it down, and you take your chances." Or not in Ashley Giles's case. Already under fire because of his selection ahead of Monty Panesar, Giles had an aberration at square-leg when Ponting had made just 35, misjudging a firm pull that burst through his fingertips ten yards in from the boundary's edge.
"It's obviously disappointing," said Hoggard. "You'd back Ash to catch 99 out of 100, but if you didn't have catches dropped in cricket it'll be a boring old game. It's never anything personal, just something that happens, and I'm sure we'll see another dropped catch before the end of the series."
When asked if the team had any cunning plans for dislodging Ponting in future encounters, Hoggard turned the question around. "Any ideas?" he asked the floor, before adding: "He's one of the world's best batsmen, he looks in good form, and on a wicket like that it's tough to dislodge him, as we proved in the first innings. It's hard work, and when you get a good batsman it's even harder."
Hoggard is an affable sort, and has been known to sing to himself as he's running into the crease. Today, however, with a strong cross-breeze disrupting his concentration, he admitted: "There was no singing, I was just cursing the wind, and wishing it would bugger off! It was quite blustery, quite strong, and it seemed every time I turned around it picked itself up."
But amid all the jocularity of his performance there was a very serious message underlying his day's work. "It was vital we put on a good performance in this game," he concluded. "We've come to compete, not to roll over, and we've fired a shot over their bows in this match. There have only been 11 wickets in three days so it's not a massive disappointment if we don't win from here, but hopefully we're here to keep the Ashes."
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