India v England, 1st Test, Nagpur, 3rd day March 3, 2006

Reversing the cliches

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Matthew Hoggard: "remarkable" © Getty Images
This was a very good day for England and a rotten one for some threadbare cricketing clich├ęs: that captaincy is impossible once a player pulls on his bowling boots; that wicket-taking is impossible for a spinner born within 500 miles of London; and that finding the edge is impossible for Matthew Hoggard unless operating on green pitches under gun-metal skies.

Like the local wildlife in sun-baked Nagpur, the game sprung to life in the morning and again as the sun set, dozing in between. After taking five wickets in a gripping first session, England did not manage another until minutes before the close. But crucially India did not zoom out of sight in between, adding just 128 runs and closing on 322 for 9. "I think we'd have taken that," said Hoggard later. "It's a flat track really."

Hoggard's early bowling was remarkable. Last night Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid only looked like being removed by a run-out (or perhaps arbitrary abduction by the CIA men accompanying George Bush on his visit to India). No Englishman had moved it off the straight.

And then, in the fourth over of the day, Hoggard produced an inducker that veered about a foot and a half, and as viciously as a rickshaw avoiding a pot-hole, trapping Dravid lbw. The bowler was almost the only person on the ground not surprised. "I keep on saying that I've always been able to reverse-swing the ball," he insisted. After a series of action replays, swinging the ball in and out, he had five wickets for 29.

As with yesterday's hero Paul Collingwood, Hoggard helped knock over a one-dimensional stereotype. If Collingwood was the odd-job man, Hoggard was the shaggy-haired farm-hand, who hated London and enjoyed walking his dogs in the dales. In short, an honest if unexceptional toiler. Agricultural images stuck to him like mud to a tractor.

But the cold fact is that last year Hoggard was one of the sharpest cutting edges in world cricket. His strike rate of a wicket every seven overs or so was fourth-best in the world - better than such 'honest toilers' as Shoaib Akhtar, Steve Harmison, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. And that included a series against Australia and three Tests on comatose pitches in Pakistan.

While Hoggard was doing the carving, Monty Panesar was doing the containing. His figures - 41.4-19-72-2 - said it all. While Ian Blackwell was bowling with three sweepers Monty only needed one. He didn't stand out - which is exactly what England would have wanted - except, that is, when he found Sachin Tendulkar's pad bang in front and skipped away like a delighted Bambi towards third man. "The way he bowled in, his first Test match he's shown years of experience," said Hoggard. "He bowled like he's been bowling in Test cricket for 10 years." But we should not get too carried away: Ian Salisbury's first Test wicket was Javed Miandad. And Ashely Giles would have been more worried if it was the like-for-like replacement Blackwell who'd done well. In fact, he had an off day.

And with more than a little help from his friends, Flintoff kept England on track on what could have been a bumpy day. The memory of the last charismatic allrounder to captain the Test side haunts English cricket - Ian Botham Played 12; Won 0 in the early '80s. But Freddie must have moved up the pecking order for the moment - perhaps not too far distant given the rigours of the job - when Michael Vaughan gives over.

Paul Coupar is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer and will be covering the first two Tests for Cricinfo