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England v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Lord's, 3rd day

Hoggard's content with life in the slower lane

Andrew Miller

May 13, 2006

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Matthew Hoggard: entering his prime at 29 © Getty Images

The moment when it came was typical Hoggard. Flat on his back and chuckling merrily to himself, the tenth England cricketer to bag 200 Test wickets was a picture of modest contentment as his team-mates bundled over to congratulate him. Some players puff out their chests and scream "look at me!" when they reach such a significant milestone. Hoggard preferred to shake what remains of his dulux-dog mane, and wonder if it's really for real.

"I'm not a massive stats man, but it's a dream come true to get 200 wickets and join the legends," he said, in a manner that suggested he would soon be ejected from that same club for being an imposter. "There was a little bit of movement, I bowled reasonably well, hit the right areas." It was the same old spiel he's been reeling off at press conferences for the past six years.

"I felt like a bag of spanners in the first innings," he insisted, though the manner in which he accounted for Sri Lanka's openers, both lbw to big nip-backers, didn't exactly back up his argument. "It didn't come out correct because you're always battling with the slope at Lord's, but I got better and better as the game progressed."

Modest to a fault - that's just Hoggard's way. He reiterated that his epiphany came in the Caribbean in the spring of 2004, when Michael Vaughan put his role in the side in layman's terms. "I was on the shop floor, sweeping up after everyone else, keeping the place tidy." Since then, he has been a permanent fixture for 30 consecutive Tests, a remarkable feat for any cricketer in these fixture-congested times, but particularly for a fast bowler.

"After that, I just settled down into the role of containing," explained Hoggard. "I just bowl for maidens, because as Glenn McGrath's been telling everybody for years, it's a simple game. If you stop them scoring, you get wickets. I'm very happy in that role and it's good to have quality fast bowlers at the other end. Batsmen want to face the little dibble-dobbler at the other end and take me too lightly."

Still only 29, Hoggard is right at the very peak of his game, as demonstrated by a rhythm that earned him seven wickets against India at Nagpur and hasn't deserted him since. With 58 scalps in 2005 alone, he is well within reach of 300 in his career. More immediately, he needs only another 27 to surpass his old Yorkshire and England colleague Darren Gough, a prospect that prompted a stifled giggle of amusement.

"It'd be lovely to get there," he said of the 300 mark, "but I'll be looking game by game, season by season. There's good pressure for places at the moment, and healthy competition to keep performing. We've got people in the wings who are very good bowlers, and it's nice for the selectors to have a squad to rotate in case of injuries. Who do you pick and who do you leave out?"

Hoggard acknowledged that it was the influence of Troy Cooley, England's former bowling coach who has now moved Down Under to prepare the Australians for the Ashes, that really kickstarted his career in 2004. "He's been a massive inspiration and a great asset to English cricket," said Hoggard. "I wish him luck [in Australia] but hopefully he won't replicate what he's done over here."

But Hoggard's trump card remains his love of the quiet life, particularly the chance to escape from all the attention that surrounds international cricket, and disappear onto the Yorkshire Moors with his dogs. "It certainly beats the gym!" he laughed. "But it's a nice occupation, everyone's got their own little sanctuary they go to. Mine happens to be dog-walking, Fred's most probably the pub, and Andrew Strauss probably reads the Financial Times to see how his stocks and shares are going.

"But I like getting out to the countryside, and getting away from it all." In a team stacked with 90mph seamers, it is Hoggard's life in the slower lane that is finally getting its due recognition.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
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