Top Performer - Matthew Hoggard December 6, 2006

The Ever-Ready Bunny

Matthew Hoggard toiled for 42 overs in the first innings, uphill and into the wind for the most part, for the heroic figures of 7 for 109
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England lost at Adelaide but it was not for want of more effort from Matthew Hoggard © Getty Images

Matthew Hoggard has a hangdog look at the best of times, so God knows how low his shoulders must be drooping after the events of the past five days. "The Ever-Ready Bunny" was how he described himself on the third evening of the Adelaide Test, after grabbing four of the first five Australian wickets to fall, but those batteries will be feeling a bit flat now. Forty-two overs in the first innings, uphill and into the wind for the most part, for the heroic figures of 7 for 109. And all in a lost cause.

Hoggard is an improbable cricketer. He is a typical English outswing bowler who learnt his trade playing for Pudsey in the Yorkshire Leagues, and who consequently thrives on the green grass of home. And yet he is a character who reserves his best efforts for overseas Tests, when the chips are really down. His finest performances have come not at Headingley or Lord's in early May, but at Johannesburg in the January sun, Nagpur in the stifling heat of Maharashtra and now at Adelaide in an Ashes encounter that, in his own words, England dared not lose.

They did lose, but it was not for want of more effort from Hoggard, the definitive captain's dream. He has been known to sing to himself as he trundles up to the crease, a technique that helps his focus as he plugs away on a length, time and again. It was under Nasser Hussain on his first overseas tour, in India in 2001-02, that he first displayed his aptitude for long and accurate spells. He stuck rigidly to the corridor outside Sachin Tendulkar's off stump, in a bid to render the great man strokeless. It was a ploy that very nearly succeeded, only for rain to rob England of a chance for a series-leveling victory.

By his own admission, the lessons he learned on the subcontinent have been invaluable ever since. Until England's great collapse robbed him of the limelight, Adelaide was shaping up as his most valuable performance since the Nagpur Test against India last winter, when he took 6 for 57 in 30.5 unrelentingly accurate overs, to stifle a great Indian line-up including Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. That performance secured a draw in what turned out to be a drawn series, and before that, his 12-wicket haul at Johannesburg in 2004-05 - a game in which he carried a battle-weary attack - secured England's first series win in South Africa for more than 30 years.



'Hoggard is the ever-present. The man who cannot be wearied by any degree of toil' © Getty Images

He lacks the glamour of England's speedier options, and was famously described by Michael Vaughan as England's shop-floor steward - the man who keeps things in control for the rest of the attack to work around. But there is no doubting his status as England's senior bowler. He has been leading the attack for the best part of four years, and in that time he has climbed stealthily into the top ten all-time England wicket-takers.

With 232 wickets, he leapfrogged his old Yorkshire team-mate, Darren Gough, in eighth place during this Test, and is nestled in behind Andrew Caddick - a man who claimed there'd be no room for Hoggard in a fully fit England attack. And therein lies the rub. Hoggard is the ever-present. The man who cannot be wearied by any degree of toil. Since his recall in the Caribbean in the spring of 2004, he has played in every one of England's 38 Tests, and on the evidence at Adelaide, they cannot do without him.

What they say
"There is big difference in Hoggard on this tour from when he last toured Australia. I thought he was a good bowler with the new ball when it was swinging, but once the shine went off he was cannon fodder. But he's gone away and worked on a method on how he can still bowl well when the ball isn't swinging and he put that plan in operation perfectly." Ian Chappell on Hoggard's Adelaide performance.

What he says
"I just closed my eyes and whanged it down, and you take your chances." How Hoggard summed up his spell on the third day at Adelaide.

What you may not know
Though he is known around the game for a zany sense of humour, Hoggard is one of the brightest members of the England team, and had cricket not intervened, he had hoped to pursue a career as a vet.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo