Do you remember Matthew Hoggard the Test cricketer? Do you ACTUALLY REMEMBER?

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Matthew Hoggard completely having it with that there bowling like

Have you ever been at a funeral where they’ve skipped through the first 80 years of the person’s life before really dwelling on recent history? Half a century of adult life is summed up by counting progeny and then all the eulogy goes on about is how you liked a pint of mild and a game of dominoes.

People can struggle to think of a person in terms of anything other than what happened most recently. Perhaps that’s the way people are conditioned to think about life – like it’s one long progression. From this point of view, you’ve really cracked it near the end. Everything’s fallen into place.

Just to confirm, Matthew Hoggard’s not dead

We get a slight sense of this when reading about Matthew Hoggard now that he’s announced that he will retire at the end of the season. Sporting life moves on frighteningly quickly and even those of us for whom he was such a vital figure may struggle to muster fitting emotions. It’s not like he’s dead. It’s not like he’s even retired yet. He’s still there at Leicestershire, a sort of wishy-washy copy of an outstanding opening bowler with whom we are very familiar; a dilute methadone for an addiction we no longer have.

But this is to miss the point. Sport is primarily about the present with the future a secondary concern, but it’s also worth looking back on the past from time to time to keep yourself honest when you look at what’s happening now.

We are absolutely not going to use the word ‘yeoman’

Even though we just did and even though the word will provide the framework for what we’re about to say.

The perception of Matthew Hoggard was always of a toiler; the kind of cricketer who made the most of his talent (like that’s a crime, rather than part of the job). This always grated with us, even if Hoggard himself tended to play up to it, saying he just whanged the ball down.

That kind of assessment devalues not just Hoggard, but the complexities of cricket itself. He may have bowled about 10mph slower than Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison, but he took more Test wickets at a lower average and with a better strike rate. In fact, in the very earliest days of our cricket writing, we did a short piece about how he was actually a strike bowler.

How did Matthew Hoggard take his wickets?

It wasn’t just by whanging it. It was by whanging it in an obscenely skilful manner. As a conventional English swing bowler, he was a kind of proto-Anderson, but he also developed cutters and reverse swing so that he could take wickets basically anywhere. 6-57 in Nagpur, 7-63 in Christchurch and 7-61 in Johannesburg.

We also wonder whether his achievements have been partly devalued by the fact that he played his cricket in an era when terrible flat pitches were infuriatingly common. His average was forever being compared to those of the previous generation, but now we’ve all kind of come to terms with the fact that a bowling average of around 30 is actually pretty handy (even considering that pitch quality has since improved a bit).

So is that how he should be remembered?

As a hugely skilful bowler who was a vital component in the best England side seen in decades? Yeah, partly, but you need to tack onto that the fact that he had a great attitude.

An example is his batting, which was really bloody ordinary even at the point at which he retired from Test cricket. However, it took extraordinary effort for him to improve it to ‘really bloody ordinary’ and it takes a special kind of character to put in the hours with such minimal obvious reward.

Vindication came with a jarringly dreamy cover drive as England stuttered towards a win in the 2005 Trent Bridge Test. That moment summed him up for us. Without knowing the background, it was just a tail-ender hitting a four. But if you’d followed his career and the painfully slow development of his batting, you’d see it as the low key culmination of something special.


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  1. That Jo’berg seven-for is still probably my favourite bowling performance of all time. I absolutely loved Hoggard; it always irritated me that everyone treated him like some kind of shambling village idiot who could only just about be trusted to hold up an end.

  2. A pint of mild and a game of dominoes is a reasonable description of the first 40 years of my life. I’m looking forward to the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll of my later years.

    But it’s a fair point you make. I think a lot of the problem for Hoggard was his face. Can you imagine him snarling? Or even being Stuart Broad sulky? What about cold and grimly determined? Slightly insane with a looming sense of violence? This is how we define the Platonic fast bowler, albeit wrongly. Hoggard didn’t quite seem to fit the stereotype.

  3. My only memory of Hoggard is a one-day game in Chennai. He was fielding at deep mid-wicket, and every time the crowd got noisy, he did a booty shake and the crowd got even noisier. He was looking patently ridiculous, but seemed to be having a lot of fun.

    I see that this retirement news has moved you to come up with a hover caption on par with the Alastair Cook batting one.

    1. Indeed, he looked terrified at the prospect of having to bat for that pivotal match and enormously relieved when someone else did the job for him. They kept showing him on the England balcony.

      I remember thinking about that début when he actually did bat for pivotal match at Trent Bridge in 2005.

      He was a hugely reliable test quality swing bowler when he was in his prime. He would have a chance of taking wickets whatever the age of the ball, whatever the stage of the playing day, whatever the state of the pitch.

      When Jimmy hangs up his boots, England could do a lot worse than “another Hoggard”, if we can find one.

    2. I’ve only ever retired from one sport (rugby). The others I just keep going with at ever decreasing levels of speed. But I didn’t hang up my boots. Why would I? Why would anyone? The only place I can think of hanging them would be on the coat rack, but they would get in the way, and most likely would make the coats dirty. Besides, surely the point of a hangar is that the thing hung up is readily available, which is going against the point of the phrase.

      I suppose the boots could be hung up commemoratively, like horse brasses in country pubs or something. But is that what people do? It’s a bit tacky (also like the horse brasses, heh heh).

      I think in future we should say, “When Jimmy finally agrees to move his boots from the cupboard where they’re in the way to a plastic box in the loft in the deluded belief that there might still be occasions when he needs them so it’s best to keep them reasonably handy whereas in fact he’s just going to get too fat to play and the boots are going to get mouldy until one day his wife finds them and puts them in the bin, England could do with …etc.”

    3. I don’t mean to be picky, Bert, but I have a mild dislike for the misappropriation of the word “retire” by non-professional sports partakers. You don’t retire, you quit. There are many reasons why you might quit, and some of them are often valid (I quit playing rugby when I buggered my knee, I quit playing football cos I was proper shite). There should be no stigma attached to this, but it’s not retirement. That’s when you stop work and take out a subscription to Saga magazine and a standing order for Worther’s Originals. Surely?

      Regarding Hoggard, he always seemed to take top order wickets when they were most needed. And one of those few bowlers who played just as well home or away.

    4. Retiring from rugby is a wise decision. All those years spent lying under men much bigger than you waiting for them to get off because you are powerless to push them away can scar a fella…..

    5. I don’t mean to be picky, me, but surely the point of a hangar is to put aeroplanes in.

      DC – It was fine. They get off as soon as the referee shouts “Held”.

  4. I started watching Test Cricket pretty much around the time that Hoggard made his debut, so I’d hope I’d remember him. A class act, consistently good even when others were stealing the limelight. And of course, there was the occasional blinding spell where he’d just take a side apart.

    For me, that Jo’burg performance was especially remarkable for the fact that England only had two sessions to force a win, and Hoggy pulled it off.

  5. Most people remember the Hoggard/Harmison partnership as being Hoggard as the reliable stock bowler and Harmison as the devastating strike bowler.

    You want your stock bowler to be a threat to the batsmen but a large part of their job is to contain and slow the run rate down (build pressure, stop a team getting away etc).

    A strike bowler should be able to take wickets quickly and provided they do that then the economy rate is much less important.

    The statistics back up just how good H&H were at their respective arts:

    Hoggard 3.26 runs per over / 56.0 balls per wicket
    Harmison 3.22 runs per over / 59.4 balls per wicket

    Hang on, I think I’m confused…was Harmison actually the one with the long blonde shaggy hair??

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