Dogs, doodles and diatribes
Mark my words, Matthew Hoggard will never play for England again. He will no doubt be mentioned in dispatches when the Ashes injuries begin to stack up this summer, and the Barmy Army will sing hymns of praise if his gurning mug appears on the giant screen midway through the Headingley Test. But England's sixth most successful wicket-taker of all time is already ancient history, thanks in no small part to this wonderful, honest and characteristically unhinged autobiography.
"A suicide note to rank alongside Labour's 1983 manifesto" was how Mike Atherton described Hoggy: Welcome to My World, which is some achievement for a book that opens with a foreword (actually a paw-word) from Hoggard's dogs, Billy and Mollie, and closes with a postscript from his two-year- old son, Ernie. But in between the doodles and digressions, and cutting through an (at times contrived) air of silliness, this is a painful but laugh-out-loud sign-off from one of the most popular England cricketers of recent times.
The book's style is utterly puerile at times, littered with block capitals, quadruple exclamation marks and all manner of devices to make his detractors harrumph, and by referring to the press pack as a "cunch of bunts" he has probably diddled himself out of several favourable reviews. But Hoggard has come up with an autobiography in the fullest and frankest sense. It is often felt that he cultivated an air of mild lunacy to mask his insecurities, but he clearly missed nothing in his near-decade as an England player. To the delight of his fans but the chagrin of his former employers he has collected a massive pile of dirty laundry and is happy to parade it just as his Yorkshire team-mates used to do with the Y-fronts of the second-team coach.
The grubbiest underpants on show are those belonging to the England and Wales Cricket Board, whose methods and man-management are held up for ridicule in almost every chapter. In many ways Hoggard's gripes are ungracious, considering he was one of the earliest beneficiaries of the central contract system that transformed the livelihoods of England's players. Then again, the brutality of his axing in Wellington and subsequent banishment from the national set-up, coming at a time of intense personal stress, makes his indignation entirely righteous.
No doubt emboldened by Marcus Trescothick's candour in his own book last summer, Hoggard is not afraid to tackle the dark side of England life. The chapters co-written with his wife Sarah, addressing their struggles to conceive and the descent into post-natal depression that turned that last tour of New Zealand into a living nightmare, are poignant and brave. But whereas Trescothick's tale was groundbreaking yet bleak, humour remains Hoggard's default setting. His book is the more readable thanks to that essential levity.
At any rate those newsworthy chapters come late in the proceedings, by which stage the tale has all but written itself thanks to a single relationship that creates enough friction to carry the entire narrative. Perhaps uniquely among those players who thrived in the England "bubble" Hoggard's relationship with Duncan Fletcher was never better than suspicious: he felt, with some justification, that the coach never rated him, and as he dryly notes in his chapter on the 2005 Ashes, it could so easily have been James Kirtley making up the famous "Awesome Foursome".
Without such a powerful figure in his corner it is little wonder that Hoggard could not be persuaded to buy into the wider team ethic. But conformity's loss is literature's gain. From first chapter to last he goes triumphantly off message, not least on the subject of diet and fitness, in which he sounds like the reincarnation of Fred Trueman as he concludes a rollicking diatribe with the declaration: "Fast bowlers do not eat salad!" (although even Trueman might have stopped short of advocating Roast Chicken Monster Munch as the ideal energy food).
If at times it feels as if he is playing to the gallery, clowning around for the Barmy Army on a tedious final day in Galle, then the only response is "Hoggy is a monkey, tra-la-la-la!" This book will surely prove to be the vehicle that has whisked him into the sporting afterlife, but at least he has chosen to travel in style.
Hoggy: Welcome to My World
by Matthew Hoggard
HarperSport, hb, 352pp, £18.99
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo. This review first appeared in the July 2009 issue of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here