Hoggard - Knight, 2004

England Players in 2003 - part 3 of 5

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4 | Part 5

Matthew Hoggard (Yorkshire)
Hoggard, having been the heir apparent to Gough and Caddick for at least 18 months, slipped back into the pack. With an influx of new seamers catching the eye - either through debut six-fors or sexy haircuts - Hoggard's old-fashioned virtues made him something of a forgotten man. He began 2003 with a redemption of sorts for a humbling Ashes tour, at Sydney, but faded into the background as a non-playing member of the World Cup squad. After missing most of the English summer with a knee injury (he played only one Test, working Zimbabwe over in comfortingly dank conditions at Lord's) Hoggard returned to take the Man of the Series award in Bangladesh, although that was as much for lasting the course as anything. He was then dropped after one, largely impotent, performance in Sri Lanka; the public explanation from the usually reticent England coach Duncan Fletcher - "Hoggard struggles a bit when it does not swing" - was worth about ten letters from his heart-on-sleeve Australian counterpart John Buchanan. Prevailing wisdom by now had Hoggard not as the new Gough or Caddick, but as the new Phil DeFreitas: a handful at home when it moves around; anodyne away when it does not. A genuine in-swinger might help.
2003: 5 Tests: 31 runs @ 10.33; 18 wickets @ 26.22.
2 ODI: 5 runs @ 2.50; no wicket for 71.00.

Nasser Hussain (Essex)
Most people, as they edge towards retirement, prefer to take things a bit easier. But the quiet life is never an option for an England captain, and 2003 contained enough tumult for a whole career. Worn down by yet another Ashes debacle, Hussain went out of the frying pan and into the fire with a shocker of a World Cup. He was haunted by the Zimbabwe crisis, proved hardly able to buy a run, and his hunch of bowling Anderson ahead of Caddick against Australia cost England dear. Within hours of the team's exit, he announced his retirement from one-day internationals. Then, after a chastening First Test against South Africa, came his resignation as Test captain - English cricket's biggest JFK moment for many a year (where were you when you heard the news?). Hussain probably looked forward to slipping back into the crowd as just another batsman. Some chance. At Lord's he dropped a sitter from Graeme Smith - it cost 251 runs - and his almost blood-curdling cry when he was suckered in the second innings led many to suggest he was mentally shot. He responded at Trent Bridge with a trademark what-do-you-make-of-that century, showing again that he is one of the best rough-track bullies around, but at Headingley his soft dismissal by Jacques Rudolph - after which he lingered at the crease, transfixed by his fate - was pivotal. Given all that had gone on, it felt strangely appropriate that he should miss England's Oval frolic through injury. He was back for the tour of the subcontinent, but his only significant contribution in Sri Lanka was an old-school outburst at Muralitharan, which allegedly involved the words "cheat", "chucker" and some colourful adjectives for clarification. By the end of the year, Collingwood's cool countenance looked a more likely fashion accessory for 2004 than Hussain's passion.
2003: 11 Tests: 711 runs @ 37.42.
10 ODI: 127 runs @ 14.11.

Ronnie Irani (Essex)
Irani's trials and tribulations up and down the batting order mirrored England's chaotic one-day winter of 2002-03. Whether it was at No. 3, 8 or 9, he enjoyed little success, and struggled on true surfaces to make incisions with his honest but transparent medium-pace. Force of personality carried him further than he might otherwise have gone. His greatest achievement was to develop a cult following among the Australian crowds during the VB Series with some impromptu aerobic sessions on the boundary, while his well-publicised love of alternative medical treatments amused the local press. But the callisthenics and homoeopathy could not hide the truth: at international level, enthusiasm and a smile were not enough. Irani was discarded for the English summer, when a troublesome knee plunged his future as an all-rounder into serious doubt.
2003: 8 ODI: 67 runs @ 11.16; 7 wickets @ 40.57.

Richard Johnson (Somerset)
A Test bowling average of 17 was not to be sniffed at, but Johnson was never quite able to shake off the accusation that his successes had come a little too easily. He began with two wickets in his first over and six for 33 on Test debut against Zimbabwe at Chester-le-Street - not to mention a wicket with his second ball in one-day internationals - and then came off the bench to knock down nine Bangladeshis at Chittagong. When he floundered in his first serious tester on a Galle belter, the critics stirred, but he was not the only England seamer to find life hard in Sri Lanka. The net result was that Johnson ended the year as he had begun it: as an oftenwounded infantryman in England's jostling army of seam bowlers.
2003: 3 Tests: 59 runs @ 14.75; 16 wickets @ 17.18.
10 ODI: 16 runs @ 5.33; 11 wickets @ 21.72.

Robert Key (Kent)
Despite modest statistical returns, Key came back from Australia in credit after showing plenty of courage and resourcefulness in Test cricket's hottest kitchen. But a penchant for getting out to medium-pace trundlers did not bode well for a series against Zimbabwe; and he was duly dropped after scores of 18 (a rough decision) and four. In his two one-day appearances Key looked a fish out of water - which he was: a robust, hard-handed opener asked to pick the gaps in the middle order.
2003: 3 Tests: 39 runs @ 9.75.
2 ODI: 11 runs @ 5.50.

James Kirtley (Sussex)
Few people can ever have scratched an itch as exquisitely as Kirtley did last year. After being England's perennial twelfth man for the first half of the summer, he torpedoed South Africa at Trent Bridge with six secondinnings wickets to grab the match award and the headlines. After reality bit at Headingley, Kirtley missed the final Test of the summer through injury - and a few days later was left out of the winter Test squads altogether, though he was paid the hush money of a one-day place. In this age of fragile fast bowlers, however, a tour party is a bit like a call for a sharp single from Denis Compton: a basis for negotiation. Kirtley, called up as cover, jumped right to the front of the queue for the final two Tests in Sri Lanka. He performed zealously, but his action remained the subject of whispers.
2003: 4 Tests: 32 runs @ 5.33; 19 wickets @ 29.52.
1 ODI: did not bat; 2 wickets @ 16.50.

Nick Knight (Warwickshire)
Having waited seven long years to play in a World Cup, Knight had a tournament that was a microcosm of England's: it never really got going. He had started to run out of steam after a fine VB Series, and found a string of weird and wonderful ways to lose his wicket, including a needless runout against India. At times he looked torn between dashing and dropping anchor; with Trescothick having taken possession of the long handle, Knight moulded himself into a kind of finisher-opener. Yet his most noteworthy act was passive - facing the first recorded 100mph delivery, from Shoaib Akhtar. He announced his retirement after the World Cup, and probably deserved more of a fanfare than he received: Knight's final average (40.41) was the highest of any Englishman to play 20 one-day internationals.
2003: 11 ODI: 339 runs @ 30.81.

© John Wisden & Co