April 20, 2009

'I felt I was going a bit cuckoo in New Zealand'

Six months away and enjoying every minute of it, though being dropped from the England side still rankles
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Hello, you may remember me. I used to open the bowling for England. That's not what I've been up to lately, though. I've been at home in Yorkshire with my wife Sarah and young Ernie, who's two in May. It's been a full six-month break and it's been a godsend. For one reason or another it's my first full winter at home for 13 years, so it's been a chance to do normal things like normal people, and appreciate having the time to do them properly.

I haven't played for England for more than a year now, since the New Zealand tour last March, and I'm still pissed off about the circumstances of my dropping, to be honest. But more about that later. This winter, I've tried to distance myself from the England team, and what do you know, it's been surprisingly easy.

It won't surprise you to learn I'm not the most organised of people - I never know whether it's Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday - so I'd find myself flicking through the TV, and thinking, "Wow, there's a Test match on today, when did that start… yesterday, was it?… that's a shocker!"

It's been suggested that England have been quite easy to miss this winter, but that's a bit unfair. They've been playing on some - how can I put it - interesting wickets. West Indies went into their shell after winning the first Test, and then employed the most pathetic of gameplans on the flattest of wickets in the last match. They got their tactics completely and utterly wrong by playing for the draw, and it would have served them right if the game had turned around and taken a massive chunk out of their rear end.

All in all it was a good winter to be unwanted as a bowler! Our lads stuck at it well on a series of pudding wickets, but increasingly around the world that is the way the game is going. Pitches are getting flatter and flatter, the amount of runs being scored is getting bigger, and it's increasingly hard to be a bowler. I reckon it'll stay like that this summer as well. England will provide some more helpful wickets early on, but every ground in the country wants five days per Test match, to increase their revenue - especially for the series that everyone's talking about… kerching, kerching.

Will I have a role in the Ashes? I'm not ruling it out, but it's completely out of my hands. It's nice to reminisce and draw on the feeling of winning the Ashes in 2005, but that was four years ago. This is a new series with a new set of players, and they have got to perform and not rely on yesterday's games. I was a firm believer when I was playing that you're only as good as your next game. I think it's still true today.

Which is a bit of a bummer, because apparently my name was left out of some 25-man preliminary whatsit squad the other day - now there's a shock! - but to be honest I didn't even know anything like that had been named. My contact with the ECB has been zero, and so I'm completely and utterly not even thinking about a recall. I'm just concentrating on taking wickets for Yorkshire, and pushing for trophies.

But like I said, I am still very upset about my axing from the England team. It affected me a lot more than I thought it would. It still breaks my heart to think back to how I lost out, after one bad Test match at Hamilton, and I was never really told why or spoken to about it. I thought I'd done enough to put it right, but unfortunately for me it wasn't to be. The rest, as they say, is history. One minute I was sixth on England's all-time list of wicket-takers, the next I was told I'd lost my central contract and I was completely out on my ear.

As I've written in my autobiography (which comes out next month - plug plug!), I was having a tough time in New Zealand. Ernie was only nine months old and Sarah was struggling back home, and halfway through the match I admitted to Vaughany I felt I was going a bit cuckoo. I've no idea if that played a part in what happened next, but it would have been nice to have a bit of communication from up top.

"Apparently my name was left out of some 25-man preliminary whatsit squad the other day - now there's a shock! - but to be honest I didn't even know anything like that had been named. My contact with the ECB has been zero, and so I'm completely and utterly not even thinking about a recall"

Still, there's a silver lining, and that has been the chance to watch Ernie grow up this winter. I'm enjoying every minute of it, but I'm also getting an understanding of how hard it is as well! It's not a walk in the park by any stretch, but you share the experiences and grow with them, and just live life as a normal person. A lot of people don't get to do that - not just sportsmen, but people who have to work away from home. I was lucky enough to do it for six months, and I loved it.

Now it's back to the harsh reality of pre-season nets, and the hard work of bowling again. But so much for the miserable sods who gripe about the weather at the start of the English season - it's a beautiful blue in Yorkshire at the minute! We've just had three days of practice between each other, and there was more help for the bowlers than the batters, which was a nice change.

Actually, we did the bulk of our pre-season work in Dubai at the Pro Arch Trophy, which wasn't the obvious place to plan for April's showers, but then, seeing as Headingley didn't have any grass until last month, it would have been a bit of a drawback to stay put. Indoor rubber matting somehow doesn't feel the same as proper turf.

I'm also looking forward to letting someone else bowl to Vaughany! He didn't have a great time of it in our middle practice this week, but nor did many of the batters. In the nets, his balance and movement has been good, and he made a cracking hundred in Dubai. England were meant to name their Test squad today, but it's a good thing they postponed that, because it would have been difficult to pick the team without seeing him bat.

I'm looking forward to seeing how England go under Andy Flower. I don't think the coach actually needs to lead the side - the players and captain need to take charge, and the coach just stays in the background doing the donkey work. But his big attributes are that he's been there and done that. Obviously he's a very highly rated Test player, and coming from a lesser nation he's had his back against the wall for a lot of his career but still came out on top as a hugely respected batter. England will draw off his knowledge, and I'm sure he'll do a good job.

Of course the Ashes is the series that everyone cares about, but it's vital that England have a really good series against West Indies. It all comes back to that word "bouncebackability" that we used a few years ago. It's a different thing saying you're confident and actually believing it. If England can put their winter behind them, start afresh, and win early doors, they will have real confidence to take into the summer.

Matthew Hoggard will be writing regular columns for Cricinfo through the 2009 season

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sabina2009 on April 23, 2009, 5:13 GMT

    I show my deepest sympathy for Hoggard. He is one of the finest English bowlers I have seen. English Cricket Board should keep in mind that they normally do not get natural talents like Hoggard so rather than wasting opportunities, they should utilize it properly so that talent like Hoggard does not fade away. I simply do not know the roles of English cricket board. Are they always against those who perform better?

  • o-bomb on April 22, 2009, 12:26 GMT

    Hoggy, you are a bloody legend and your axing from the test side was a disgrace - and that's from a Surrey fan. I'd love to see you take a hatful of wickets at the start of this season and get back into the test side for the Ashes. Your type of accurate bowling is the sort that would be useful in any side. Great article too - a really easy read. Let's hope the pitches don't get too batter friendly. Nobody wants to see draws all the time, even if it does mean the grounds get 5 days of revenue. I'm looking forward to your articles throughout the summer.

  • haider2525 on April 22, 2009, 9:17 GMT

    Mathew Hoggard is a cricketing god. He is one of my favorite pace bowlers ever, who was unceremoniously droped and forgotten. He is one guy you can expect to give a 102% in any situation and condition. Beats me how a drama-queen like Hamison has been given such a long second chance while Hoggard is never even mentioned as a probable. Hoggy, if you can read this, your fans still believe in you and are with you and, hopefully, justice will be served to you and your talent. Other than that, what else can ya do? It's English cricket after all...

  • Simon_1 on April 21, 2009, 21:24 GMT

    Harmison has multiple bad tests and he is still in the team (Although has been had done by very flat wickets). Hoggard has one bad test and he is out. Doesnt take a rocket scientist to conclude that was logical thinking by the ECB there wasnt it!

  • stiab3 on April 21, 2009, 10:43 GMT

    Crikey! You are bitter, aren't you? Having a go at pitches you never even bowled on. You didn't care enough to watch the matches but still had to have a go at the opposition's tactics and the conditions.

  • Delboy71 on April 21, 2009, 7:55 GMT

    Great to see your column on here Hoggy. We met a couple of times when I was a guest of Warren's at a couple of events (although you'll not remember!!) and you're a great guy who has been very badly treated by the selectors. Unfortunately you're not the first and probably won't be the last to be treated like this but I hope you have a great start to the season and force the selectors to rethink. Good luck mate!!

  • noz3112 on April 21, 2009, 6:22 GMT

    Good read, Hoggy, looking forward to more from you later in the season. Have to say that I agree with most of the comments here that you were a bit unlucky to be dropped and you were (and I'm sure still are) a class act. Thing is, I was watching you & Harmy's figures in county games after that & didn't see anything of yours that really stood out & said 'pick me again'. That might be a bit unfair because I haven't actually seen you bowl since New Zealand, but in the media, you would read that Harmy was looking good, and he was picking up cheap wickets, so I guess that's why he got back in & you didn't. Would love to see you and/or Simon Jones play for England again though, and there's definitely a spot for a 4th seamer open. I mean, Harmy's been so hit & miss(more miss recently), Sidebottom seemingly always 50% fit and the rest of the pack so far behind I'd be seriously thinking of playing 2 spinners even early doors in England! Good luck for the season, remind us you've still got it!

  • marisi on April 21, 2009, 3:13 GMT

    Mate I'm not even a England supporter but hope you get back in the team, seeing you bowl to the SL team in SL & England I really appreciate the skill behind the swing. More than anything if you get into the team I rekon the chances of beating Auss next will significantly increase! Hang in there, get wickets and hope to see you in the ashes. Good luck!

  • Zvakanaka on April 21, 2009, 2:06 GMT

    Forget Hoggie, bring back Dazzler!

  • krik8crazy on April 21, 2009, 0:25 GMT

    Of course cricket fans will remember you. We also remember the unfair way in which the England selectors treated you. You are one guy who bowled well in all kinds of conditions and regularly got wickets, a team man to the core. You deserve a better deal than this.

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