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

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

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