March 2009
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Lawrence Booth: Still time for Hog to have his day

March 25th, 2009 by Lawrence Booth in England, Test cricket, The Ashes

Think of a Yorkshire cricketer who wouldn’t mind one last tilt at the Aussies and the chances are you’ll think of Michael Vaughan. But there is another. He’s less adept at promoting himself, more prone to homespun wit than po-faced bragging, but there may never be a better chance for Matthew Hoggard to make a case for re-selection than in the first few weeks of the new county season.

Since Hoggard was dropped after the defeat at Hamilton last year, England have taken 20 wickets only five times in 15 Tests, and just once – in a dead game against South Africa – against a side other than New Zealand. That’s not to say Hoggy would have bowled out South Africa, India and West Indies by himself; simply to point out that, while he was busy taking 42 division-one wickets at 24 each, the various men chosen to replace him failed more often than not to do their job. As with most England cricketers on the sidelines, he has improved by the match.

Hoggard, currently in Abu Dhabi with his county, told Sky this week that it would be “a bit harsh” to drop England’s bowlers for their performances on “some absolute roads”, which is both a subtle dig at his own treatment and a generous assessment of his rivals. He then added: “It will be interesting to see when they get back to England on friendlier tracks if they can produce the goods or not.” Interesting? Rarely can the word have been so loaded.

The problem is, however, that Hoggard’s swift demise after taking one for 151 in Hamilton was linked to a reputed loss of nip, the indefinable quality any international seamer needs if he is to trouble top-class batsmen in unhelpful conditions. Comparisons were made with the fate of Jason Gillespie, ruthlessly ditched forever after his freakish double-century against Bangladesh, and thus the narrative took shape. An international recall now would spoil the storyline – and leave the selectors looking rather foolish.

And yet the case for the prosecution may be more than pure nostalgia for the kind of match-winning performance Hoggard put in at Trent Bridge in 2005. Among England’s regular seam bowlers, only the now faded Ryan Sidebottom has a better record than Hoggard’s 75 Test wickets at 32 since that heady summer. That’s right, the bloke who has lost his nip has, in that time, outbowled Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison, Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Sajid Mahmood and Liam Plunkett, to say nothing of Darren Pattinson and Amjad Khan.

At 32, Hoggard is still just about in the prime of his swing-bowling life. He is desperate to rejoin the international fray, and it’s tempting to imagine that his experience and nous might have made a difference in either Antigua or Trinidad, when West Indies finished nine and eight wickets down. If the nip really has gone, so be it. But if England’s seamers fail to impress against West Indies in the two-Test series starting at Lord’s on May 6 and Hoggard is still taking wickets in June, one of the more heart-warming u-turns of recent times may take shape in the selectors’ panicked minds.

Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for The Guardian. His third book, Cricket, Lovely Cricket? An Addict’s Guide to the World’s Most Exasperating Game is out now published by Yellow Jersey

Posted in England, Test cricket, The Ashes | 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Lawrence Booth: Still time for Hog to have his day”

  1.   Hofstadter says:

    The fact that Sidebottom’s nip is only apparently perceptible against New Zealand was always going to come back to haunt the selectors. Sir Hog, with his out-swingers, off-cutters and ‘yeoman’ hardiness, should be restored to the side posthaste…

  2.   Ceci says:

    Will be interesting to see how he does in the early season - would absolutely love him to get back in.

    (Smirking MOST unkindly at “more prone to homespun wit than po-faced bragging” - lovely little stiletto stab there Lawrence!)

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