Matthew Hoggard: Hard to read and hard as nails... but away from the public glare Duncan is tremendous company

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The Independent Online

I played all but a handful of my 67 Tests under Duncan Fletcher but, throughout his eight-year reign as England coach, I never knew what went on behind those dark glasses.

To say that Fletch kept his emotions in check when on duty would be just about the biggest understatement in cricket. The mask never slipped in public, not even during the dramatic Ashes series of 2005.

Now Duncan is back in India's colours to try and keep his new team on top of the rankings but, away from cricket, he is a lot more outgoing and open when there were no members of the public or media looking on.

For example, he told us fascinating tales about his upbringing in Zimbabwe and the amazing life he had. I particularly enjoyed it when he'd had a glass or two of chardonnay and would stray into story-telling mode.

I know a lot of people might find this hard to believe but Duncan can be a very funny man. He has a lovely, dry sense of humour and can be really enjoyable company.

What no one should ever doubt, though, is his strength. He's a hard man, in every way and he will need an especially thick skin in his new job with all the media hype and 24-hour-a-day attention that surrounds the Indian cricket team.

The key will be his relationship with all those senior India players, like Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman. But Fletcher is especially good at standing back and absorbing detail, and then having quiet words with people on a one-to-one basis.

This was always going to be a tough Test series for England. With Fletcher in the opposition camp, it is likely to be tougher still.

For England, one out of Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan looks like missing out on a place in the final XI for this week's first Test at Lord's – a tough choice all right, but one that will probably come down to Andrew Strauss's gut feeling on the day.



2. I'm on a high after spotting an otter – definitely not a mink

The highlight of this week for me, as a good old country boy, was seeing an otter in the wild for the first time.

I love animals (apart from horses that attack me, that is) but the otter is up there among my favourites. To see one in the wild, while I was out walking the dogs, was just terrific.

Sightings of them are pretty rare, but I could hardly miss this one, as he was thoroughly enjoying himself in the river, making a nice bow wave as he swam and looking as though he didn't have a care in the world.

I'm 100 per cent certain it was an otter – and not a mink, as someone suggested – having studied images of both creatures once I got home.



3. Claire Taylor's fantastic career did wonders for women's game

Recently retired Claire Taylor's contribution to the highly successful England women's cricket team over many years has been immense. Well done on a brilliant career, Claire.

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