July 24, 2008

Central plank to rank outsider

Matthew Hoggard's demise as an international cricketer has been swift and has barely provoked comment

The end of the road for Matthew Hoggard © Getty Images

Darren Pattinson's international career is not yet a week old, but already it is, to all intents and purposes, finished. The outrage that greeted his premature elevation to the Test team at Headingley, and the buck-passing that followed England's subsequent ten-wicket drubbing, means his retention for Edgbaston is inconceivable, and his recall for future engagements massively improbable.

And yet, while Pattinson's career dissolves in a peculiar cocktail of sympathy and recrimination, a rather more legendary performer has already faded from view. Aside from a clutch of rueful remarks on Test Match Special, Matthew Hoggard's demise as an international cricketer has scarcely created a ripple of comment. Not since Robin Smith was axed by Ray Illingworth in 1996 has any England player gone from central plank to rank outsider in such a short space of time.

Some might argue that Hoggard is not dead yet, and a glorious recall can only be a spate of injuries away. But if that was the case then surely the moment would have arisen last week - at his home ground of Headingley, as a stand-in for the man who usurped his shop-floor-steward role, Ryan Sidebottom, and against the same opponents who provided him with a career-best 12 for 205 in Johannesburg in 2004-05. Nope, the dream has surely died, and not even the man himself sees any point in pretending otherwise. "I am not bowling a bag of spanners," Hoggard told TMS. "But I am thinking at the moment that, yes, it is over."

How could he possibly imagine otherwise, given the outrageous nature of the snub to which he has been subjected? Leaving aside the actual merits of Pattinson's performance, the facts of the case cannot be ignored. Had Hoggard played, he would quite possibly have become only the sixth England bowler to take 250 wickets in his Test career. Instead, the two scalps that he required were claimed by a 29-year-old roof-tiler from Melbourne with 11 first-class appearances to his name, who - in this era of Kolpak-related confusion - was assumed, even on the eve of his call-up, to be an Australian.

Hoggard has suffered from crises of confidence in his career, but never identity. It is no coincidence that he is the official patron of England's Barmy Army, who not only follow the team through thick and thin, but also recognise a dedicated performer when they see one. When he was first dropped, ahead of the Wellington Test last March, the reaction among the travelling fans was splenetic to say the least. They felt that the people's champion had been sacrificed because of the shortcomings of others - in particular the man who'd just joined him on the sidelines, Steve Harmison.

In fact, on the eve of the match, as the bars of Wellington's Courtney Place rippled with alcoholic indignation, two indisputable truths were agreed upon. If (and, for his followers, it was a small if...) Hoggard had let his standards slip during England's first-Test defeat in Hamilton, he would doubtless come back stronger for the experience. The spineless Harmison, however, would never be seen in international cricket again.

Now, however, with England in desperate need of a strike force to save the series, the smart money is on a return to the fray for Harmy, a player whose ticker is called into question with wearying familiarity, but whose ability to produce the unplayable delivery has never been in doubt. The best Hoggard can hope for, on the other hand, is to be named for Yorkshire's Championship fixture against Surrey on July 30 - which also happens to be the first day of the Edgbaston Test.

His treatment brings to mind the poignant demise of Boxer, the unstinting carthorse in George Orwell's novella Animal Farm, who, as a reward for his labours, is sent to a knacker's yard and made into dog-meat and glue. Memorably, the last England bowler to suffer such a comparison was Angus Fraser, England's honest toiler of yesteryear, who was omitted from the 1994-95 Ashes in favour of Joey Benjamin and the Australian-born Martin McCague (the "rat who joined the sinking ship", whose career graph sets an ominous precedent for Pattinson).

The worry for Hoggard is that even at his very, very best, he was still a player who struggled to justify his role in the side. Even though he played in 40 consecutive Tests from the start of 2004 to the end of 2006, he remained as insecure in his final appearance as he was in his first

The big difference, however, is that Fraser's plight caused uproar, whereas Hoggard's has barely merited a stage whisper. That is particularly true when you compare the reactions of the respective captains. Fraser's case was argued vehemently by his captain, Mike Atherton, who was so annoyed and embarrassed at being overruled by the chairman of selectors, Illingworth, that he failed to tell his friend he'd been dropped.

There's no evidence, however, to suggest that Hoggard's captain (and Yorkshire team-mate) Michael Vaughan fought a similar battle for his reinstatement. Quite the opposite, in fact. Regardless of the blame-game that Vaughan has been playing since the Headingley defeat, it is inconceivable that the selectors would have presented Pattinson as a take-it-or-leave-it choice. As Nasser Hussain remarked in the Daily Mail on Wednesday, it is not in the nature of the national selector, Geoff Miller, to take such an autocratic approach.

Miller, after all, was a selectorial sidekick to David Graveney for eight years before his promotion, and worked with Hussain for the final three years of his tenure. "He would always come up to me and say: 'Is that the team you want, captain?'" Hussain wrote. "I don't remember Miller ever forcing a player on me - or Graveney, for that matter. I can't remember once being told: 'This guy is playing.' It was always Duncan Fletcher and I who made the final call."

Vaughan has previous where obfuscation in the media is concerned - last year he tried to deny blaming England's World Cup failings on the "Fredalo" incident, only to be found out when the Guardian published the tape of his comments on its website. Miller's testy response to Vaughan's latest remarks about "confusion" in the Headingley selection adds to the suspicion that he has again been economical with the truth.

There's no evidence to suggest Michael Vaughan fought for Hoggard's inclusion in the Headingley Test © Getty Images

But if Vaughan was closer to the Pattinson selection that he is letting on, then he must be even further removed from the notion of a Hoggard recall. After all, for the first time in a long time, the pair have been regulars in Yorkshire's Championship side this season. On the face of it, Hoggard's season figures of 24 wickets at 23.87 compare favourably to Pattinson's haul of 29 at 20.86, and in such a situation you'd surely let the experienced player fill the breach. The only man who could have decreed otherwise is the same man who has captained Hoggard in 31 of his 67 Tests, and seen him bowl at his very, very best.

The worry for Hoggard is that, even at his very, very best, he was still a player who struggled to justify his role in the side. Even though he played in 40 consecutive Tests from the start of 2004 to the end of 2006, he remained as insecure in his final appearance as he was in his first. It was, in no small part, the secret of his enduring success - like Ashley Giles, his fellow mortal from the 2005 Ashes squad, he had an obligation to give his utmost in every single performance, because he knew - deep down - that he wasn't good enough to get away with anything less.

Vaughan is a ruthless leader, which is why he is also England's most successful. Perhaps he can tell that Hoggard's not quite as driven as he once was - take his young son, Ernie, for instance, whose arrival in May 2007 "completely and utterly changed [his] perspective on a lot of things". And though Vaughan would never be so undiplomatic in his outbursts, he presumably agrees tacitly with Fletcher's assessment that Hoggard has "lost his nip" and that "his speed has been dropping for a while".

On Wednesday, Fletcher produced another sideswipe. Writing in the Guardian, he claimed that Hoggard had been "very fortunate" to be able to feed off Andrew Flintoff's hostility for much of his England career. And it is true that, when Hoggard took his 12-for in Johannesburg, Flintoff did indeed play a crucial role, roughing up Shaun Pollock at a time when swing alone was not going to win the match. But when England lost at Hamilton in March, Hoggard could, with some justification, blame Harmison for failing to fulfil his enforcer side of the bargain. That is the nature of "bowling as a unit" - which, in Vaughan's words, was precisely what England failed to do in last week's second Test.

Has Hoggard's credibility really tailed off so rapidly that he could not be trusted to raise his game for a valedictory performance in front of his home fans, in a match that began amid fears about the "tiredness" of England's attack? Tirelessness was, after all, Hoggard's most enduring asset - the ability to pound out a length for over after over, spell after spell, on flat Asian-style wickets such as Nagpur, Kandy and Adelaide. Extracting late swing on cloudless, sun-baked afternoons was his forte. With the greatest respect to Pattinson, that sort of experience might have been handy at Headingley.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Roger on July 26, 2008, 9:06 GMT

    Hoggard should be returned to the England set-up. The problem with England's bowling attack lies with the continual selection of the under-performing Stuart Broad. Hoggard is a far better wicket-taker than Broad. Broad does not deserve to be in the England side after just a handful of wickets in all the tests he has played.

  • nigel on July 25, 2008, 18:58 GMT

    The sole reason that Pattinson made the XI for Headingley and Hoggard wasn't considered was because pattinson was just keeping Sidebottom place warm.If Hoggard had played (or Tremlett,or anyone else) and done an even half-decent job he would have retained his spot for Edgbaston.Pattinson who nobody was calling to be in the side would have no-one to condemn his omission.He was basically the fall-guy.Sidebottom is in the England side come hell or highwater because vaughan wants it that way.Pattinson was no threat to Sidebottom-anyone else might have been.What this means is that the mediocre talents of Sidebottom are with us for a very long time.The man whose Test career is bloated on sub-standard oppostion(WI/NZ)is pretty much immoveable for the foreseeable future.It is just depressing.

  • Richard on July 25, 2008, 11:08 GMT

    Shame for Hoggard. An interesting point about bowling as a unit. Hoggard has always shunned the limelight and not really talked himself up or promoted himself unlike others. He just gets on and does what he does - bowls lots of overs of high quality swing and nips out a few. The Johannesburg comparison is really telling - his 12 for is credited partly to Flintoff - how often has Hoggard had batsmen in trouble at one end, under pressure and unable to score, which has let the more 'explosive' bowler at the othend (Freddie, Harmison) take the wicket while the batsmen tries to score of gim. knowing that scorinh ofsf an on-form Hoggard is very difficult. A test unit is not about the four fastest, its about bowling in balanced pairs. At the moment England don't do that. Hoggard would allow itI can't believe that anybody thinks JimmyA or Broad is a better bowler ove the five days of a Test match than Hoggard.

  • ashok on July 25, 2008, 1:52 GMT

    Of all the English Bowlers to visit the Indian Subcontinent, I thought, Hoggard was the most lion-hearted. He may not have the charisma of a Flintoff or the flamboyance of a Sidebottom, but what he does have is the ability to toil on Indian wickets, offering no assistance at all to a bowler of his ilk. For a fast bowler to be successful here, mental toughness and the stamina to bowl over after over, under the hot Indian sun, are essential traits and Hoggard has them in abundance. I still think he has it in him to make a comeback to the side and I hope the English selectors are not so myopic as to think he has out-lived his utility. For the sake of all his English fans, and the cricketing world in general, I hope he is given one more chance to prove he is still a force to be reckoned with.

  • Simon on July 24, 2008, 21:55 GMT

    I look forward to the day when a batsman is dropped after the bowlers performed shockingly.

    It is a disgrace how over the years batsmen have been rewarded for throwing their wickets away with lengthy stays in the test match squad. The sooner a couple of the top of the order are dropped the better.

  • Roger on July 24, 2008, 18:41 GMT

    Hoggard should have been included from the very start as well as Harmison if England want to win this series the current attack should be changed to include this pair.

  • Christopher on July 24, 2008, 18:27 GMT

    The non-selection of Hoggard at Headingly may well be rightly deemed flawed, however, the wider complaint neglects one factor; the progress of Anderson. Mr. Miller rightly premsies his considerations upon the necessity for a "bowling unit", in which specialist bowlers complement and accentuate each other, rather than an ungainly array of talent. In light of this exigency, surely if Anderson is able to fulfll Hoggard's role better than the mane himself, then Hoggard cannot be retained?

  • Ravi on July 24, 2008, 15:58 GMT

    I still can't believe that they would leave Hoggard out. He is one of those bowlers who gives his all and has the results to prove his worth. Shame on Vaughan for not fighting for him. If the English captain and selectors continue along this track, then they are going to get whipped by Oz in the next Ashes.

  • Nachiketa on July 24, 2008, 15:25 GMT

    Apart from Flintoff, Hoggard has by far been the best English bowler. Definitely the best in the sub-continent and if my memory serves me right, he starred in their overseas series victory in SA, not to mention the consistent bowling throughout and the dogged batting. If at all someone has to be dropped (and he should have been more than 2 years ago) is Michael Vaughan-All style and no substance(Poor man's VVS)

  • nicky on July 24, 2008, 14:20 GMT

    Its very sad that Hoggard is being treated this way. I remember watching him play for the first time in sub continent, he used to toil with many overs of accurate bowling.Even in the worst conditions (weather and team position), he would smile and continue his bowling and taking wickets. He is England's strike bowler who can take wickets even in the subcontinent. Its a pity that England can never see beyond Flintoff and some bowlers who perform only in seam conditions at home.

    Hoping to see him bowl in future.

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