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March 19, 2006
Matthew Hoggard often looks like he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders and, on day three of this must-win Test for England, he might just have to. It was England's day, despite not making the most of their overnight position. But the last hour of day two - with the spinners on and the ball aging rapidly - was a forgettable one for England.
After two short, successful spells, he was called into action again before the close because neither spinner, but Shaun Udal especially, was exerting any control over Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh.
Hoggard has defied enough expectations and exploded enough stereotypes in England colours to be worthy of proper, unconditional respect. For his entire Test career there seems to have been a 'but' with Hoggard. What if the ball's not swinging? What about when the ball gets old and soft? What about against the unforgiving Australians?
There should be no buts now. Before today he had 10 wickets in the series at 16 and 19 at 23 in India over two series. Indeed he has a cheaper bowling average in Asia (40 wickets at 28) than he does in England (92 wickets at 30). Not bad for a traditional English seamer who was supposed to be a liability if he wasn't bowling under leaden skies at Headingley.
The two wickets he took today were derived from bounce and aggression, very un-Hoggardlike qualities. You expect Andrew Flintoff or Steve Harmison to be able to bounce people out but not Hoggy. But that's what he did to Virender Sehwag and Wasim Jaffer. And he can officially call Sehwag his bunny now after getting him for the sixth time in Tests.
Hoggard's capacity for reinvention and adaptability is impressive. And without Simon Jones around this winter (not to mention Harmison's absence here) it has been essential.
He has developed a slower ball, an off-cutter, an inswinger and has learned to reverse swing it too as he showed in that monumental display at Nagpur. He has the control to bowl to a plan and the temperament to stick to his guns even in the toughest situations.
The turning-point for Hoggard came in Johannesburg just over a year ago. He bowled England into a 2-1 series lead over South Africa with seven wickets in the second innings and 12 in the match. It was a performance that proved to himself, as much to anyone else, that he was "good enough to get wickets that I'm not just there as a stock bowler".
From the start of that series in South Africa 18 months ago, Hoggard has taken 77 wickets at 24.53.
At 29, it's probably stretching a point to say that his best years are ahead of him. But he has an economical action, unlike his fellow England pace bowlers whose bodies take a terrible pounding. And he is intelligent enough and skilful enough to develop new weapons for his arsenal.
You have to adapt to survive in India, Nasser Hussain says. Matthew Hoggard has done that and more.
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