England v West Indies, 1st Test, Lord's, 5th day May 21, 2007

Hoggard leaves an echoing void



Matthew Hoggard: his injury undermined England's attack © Getty Images
All the while that Lord's was shrouded by this afternoon's persistent drizzle, the television monitors in the press box were showing replays of a rather more classic encounter between these two sides - the seismic second-Test tussle at Lord's in 2000, when England won by two wickets after bowling West Indies out for 54 in their second innings.

That was a watershed fixture in more ways than one. For England, in their first home season of the Duncan Fletcher era, defeat would have left them 2-0 down with three matches to play. Instead, the thrill of the chase imbued England with greater determination than they had known for a generation. They went on to win that summer's battle 3-1, regained the Wisden Trophy for the first time in 34 years, and topped that achievement in the winter with twin victories in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

For West Indies, on the other hand, the game was a less auspicious turning point. Courtney Walsh and the unhittable Curtly Ambrose had delivered them a crushing innings victory in the previous Test at Edgbaston, but in seven subsequent years, the team has failed to win a single match on their travels against any of the senior Test nations. They were crushed in four Tests out of four on their last trip to England in 2004, and so regardless of today's gloomy denouement, this was undoubtedly a moral victory for Ramnaresh Sarwan and his unfancied side.

Such psychological horse-trading is all that this low-key contest is good for now. The second Test in Headingley is looming at the end of the week, and tomorrow the international caravan ups sticks to Leeds, the scene of West Indies' infamous two-day defeat on that 2000 tour. Of the two squads, however, it'll be England who will carry the most baggage from this result, as they reflect on a fixture that passed so perfectly for six members of their team, but so pitifully for two rather crucial bowlers.

Matthew Hoggard made his debut in that 2000 Lord's Test - his contribution was so unobtrusive that Nasser Hussain forgot he was even on the pitch during the second innings, as Andrew Caddick, Darren Gough and Dominic Cork ran amok. This time, however, the exact opposite was true. Hoggard featured for just 10.1 overs before an abductor strain forced him from the field, but his absence echoed through the corridors of an empty fast-bowling performance.

"It's challenging when you lose one of your frontline bowlers, but the positive is that the seamers got better as we went on," said Peter Moores, as he reflected on his first Test as England's new coach. "It's nice we still bowled them out." That aspect of the performance, however, owed everything to the admirable Monty Panesar, a man who shares Hoggard's phlegmatism and appetite for the hard yards. England would not have lost without him, but they would almost certainly have been embarrassed.

Hoggard will surely not feature at Headingley. According to Moores, his injury is pain-free, but the danger is of aggravating the damage and ruling him out in the long term. It means that, after a run of 40 consecutive matches, he will have effectively missed three Tests in a row, starting with the Sydney Test back in January. James Anderson is the man who should slot back into the eleven, although his most recent nine overs for Lancashire were slapped for 68 runs.

The back-up for the squad is less easy to anticipate. Jon Lewis is injured, as is Stuart Broad, while Sajid Mahmood is badly off the boil. Durham's Graham Onions, who toured Bangladesh with Moores' A team in the winter, could well expect an invitation to join the squad - although in light of today's archive entertainment, England could worse than offer a last hurrah to Gough and Caddick, the old stagers who have started their county seasons with such a bang. At least they could be guaranteed to hit the cut strip.

Steve Harmison simply has to front up to his demons, and soon. He bowled fractionally better today in a seven-over stint between the showers, but rarely threatened a breakthrough as Chris Gayle took the opportunity for some further psychological swipes. "With Steve, he's been bowling really well in county cricket but he's come into this game and put himself under a bit of pressure," said Moores. "He passionately wants to do well for England, which is a great thing, and I think he'll be so much better for having played in a Test match.

"I think Headingley will be a chance to go out and bowl [better] because he's in good rhythm, as I think we've seen throughout the county championship," added Moores. "With any player you're going to have games in which you'd like to have played better. We all know in sport you've got to take the good games with bad games. It's a long summer, and he's got a great chance to go out there and do his stuff. We'll keep supporting him"

The fact that Harmison's best burst of the match came in front of a smattering of die-hard spectators will not have been lost on his detractors, although Moores had a succinct answer for those who questioned his bottle. "Look on the board in the dressing-room and you've got 5 for 43 against Australia [in 2005]. That's Steve Harmison, in probably one of the biggest pressure games he's played. We know he can play, and we've no doubt he's a good performer."

But the wintery bleakness of this final day underlined just how low-profile this series has been, compared to what has preceded it in the last six months - and what was enacted on this same ground seven years ago. Last summer, amid an Ashes hangover of a very different kind, England were guilty of complacency as they squandered a series win against the up-and-coming Sri Lankans. This time the urgency of the players cannot be questioned, as six honours-board entrants emphatically underlines. It's the inadequacy of the seam bowling that has been the bigger cause for concern.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo