May 6, 2015

England's swinger becomes a swimmer

Matthew Hoggard, who is taking to the water for charity, talks about the 2005 Ashes, current fast-bowling stocks and whether an old rival should take charge of England

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'I can't swim but at least it doesn't hurt!'

Ten years on from the 2005 Ashes, Matthew Hoggard is not feeling nostalgic. "No, I'm feeling quite tired," he says, drawing breath as he gets out of an outdoor pool in Hackney as his preparations for his summer exertions intensify.

Starting with the Great North Swim at Lake Windermere next month, Hoggard will complete four of Britain's five great swims this summer to raise money for Cricket Without Boundaries, a charity that promotes cricket in Africa while promoting HIV/Aids awareness and female empowerment. "It takes money and it's fantastic to be able to get into some open water and raise money for charity," he says.

"Until a month ago, the last time I swum a length of freestyle or front crawl was about 15 years ago so it's been a very quick, steep learning curve, but I'm enjoying it - hopefully I can do these 3kms without drowning. Swimming in a wet suit is fantastic - it's the first time I've been able to float in a swimming pool, being rather heavy!"

The swims form the backdrop to Hoggard's summer and, in warmer climes than this choppy morning, he will not lack for chances to reflect on that magnificent series a decade ago: the PCA are taking him to every Ashes Test. A number of dinners are also planned for members of the team, including England's 'Fab Four' bowling attack: Andrew Flintoff and his relentless back-of-a-length hostility, Steve Harmison's brawn and pace, Simon Jones' reverse swing and Hoggard's less demonstrative qualities. His job was to "brush up the debris of the shop floor" as he once put it.

Together they formed a formidable quartet, albeit one seen too fleetingly. "We all had different attributes and couldn't care less who got the wickets. We were a proper team and we just wanted to get off the pitch as quick as possible - whoever got the wickets it was fantastic, and the other three tried to support him. To be able to go into the series and stay a settled side until the last game was brilliant. Every one of us had a brief moment in the sun."

Tim Wigmore joins Matthew Hoggard in the water at London Fields Lido © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

If Hoggard always embraced his role as a shaggy-haired shop steward, he was rather better than that, offering not only prodigious new-ball swing and nagging accuracy but also the ability to cut the ball on flat surfaces, as in Nagpur and Adelaide in 2006. He had longevity too - of the quartet, Hoggard ended up as the leading Test wicket-taker. "It's a good bragging right - but when we do meet up we don't really talk about cricket," he says.

The combination of the sheer drama of the 2005 Ashes and cricket's absence from free-to-air TV since means that the series has come to be remembered as the last time when English cricket captivated the nation. But Hoggard is of the view that the benefits of free-to-air coverage risk being overstated.

"I don't think it's the be all and end all. It's nice if you can get cricket on free-to-air, but again you need money to grow the game, to put back into grassroots level, to be able to get the next group of youngsters coming through. So you're stuck between a rock and a hard place," he says. "Chance to Shine has been fantastic getting cricket into state schools, so everybody gets a chance to try the game."

Hoggard also thinks that a T20 franchise competition has the potential to galvanise the sport. "England cricket needs a boost - it's finding that window to do that and finding the right formula that works for everybody."

England may currently seem overly reliant on one quick - James Anderson - but Hoggard avoids criticising the state of English fast bowling, citing Mark Wood and Mark Footitt as men who could provide the attack with extra pace. "We've got some good bowlers in the wings they're just not quite ready for international cricket yet, but are plying their trade in county cricket," he says. "So I think it's not all doom and gloom and the next James Anderson is just around the corner."

But Hoggard is rather less positive about England's current coach Peter Moores. It was Moores who ended Hoggard's international career when he dropped him for Anderson in New Zealand in 2008 - "he's been proved right" - but, like many members of the side in Moores' first stint, Hoggard preferred life under Duncan Fletcher.

"Duncan was very much a thinker and very much a strategiser, and would come out with different techniques, with different thoughts and different plans," Hoggard says. Moores, meanwhile, had "lots of energy, lots of get up and go… completely different styles".

"What made him successful as a coach in county cricket is getting people up and getting people motivated and getting people to be up for the day-in day-out grind of county cricket. Test matches are a little bit different - you shouldn't have to be motivated to get up for a Test match. You need that fine-tuning, you need to be in the right state of mind, you need to be thinking 'I've got the backing of everybody, I just need to go out and show the world what I'm capable of.'"

Hoggard has not been won over by Moores' second stint either. "He's just said we had a good tour [of the West Indies] and the young players are progressing - and you think, well, they didn't blood the young players. Some of the things he says are a little bit baffling, and you cringe at times. Whether he'll still be there come the Ashes is the new director of cricket's prerogative." On Andrew Strauss' supposedly imminent appointment, Hoggard is unconvinced. "It'll be tricky knowing everybody intimately."

In fact, it is an Ashes opponent from 2005 who Hoggard suggests England most need. He credits Jason Gillespie, who ended up with 11 more Test wickets than Hoggard's 248, with Yorkshire's recent success. "He's gone out and given the players the power to entertain. He keeps it so simple," Hoggard says.

"He's done a fantastic job with Yorkshire, and there's no reason why he shouldn't be able to do a similar job with England. Sometimes they say change is as good as a holiday."

Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts

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