Captain sensible? No, Hoggard will still be game for a laugh

Rejection by Yorkshire still hurts but England legend can lead by example at Grace Road
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The Independent Online

We meet to talk about cricket but Matthew Hoggard is dressed for golf. There is an explanation, which becomes clear as groups of his team-mates, similarly attired, wander past an adjacent window. Some are not much more than acquaintances yet. To remedy that, a few hours' thrashing about with a little white ball is prescribed.

But first, sinking into a low chair in the corner of the members' bar, Hoggard has an interview to conduct. He has never been comfortable dealing with the press, and does not look it now. Then again, he is in unfamiliar territory. The backdrop is not Headingley, once the most inspiring place on earth to a 15-year-old from Pudsey, but the inherently unassuming Grace Road, home of Leicestershire. And he is there because he has taken on an entirely unfamiliar role with the county that finished bottom of the Championship last season, that of captain.

There is really only one question you want to ask. Are you serious? After all, this is Matthew Hoggard, the workhorse fast bowler with shaggy thatch of straw-coloured hair and the schoolboy sense of humour, not to mention the tendency, by his own admission, to be a "very annoying" member of whatever dressing room he is in.

This is also the man who penned one of cricket's more bizarre autobiographies, mixing damning criticisms of the England and Wales Cricket Board and a deeply personal account of his wife's depression with childish drawings, imaginary contributions from his two dogs and from his toddler son, Ernie, and snippets of trivia that he calls Hogfacts. "I've never been sensible," he said shortly after it was published. "Fun is better."

It seemed to confirm the feeling that Hoggard was – well – slightly bonkers. Not the work, you would say, of someone likely to be regarded as captaincy material. Does he think he will have to change? Does he think he can?

"Well, there will be times when I have to be serious," he tells me. "But I need to enjoy it because if you don't enjoy it there is no point in playing. There is always time to have a laugh and a joke. You learn how to talk to lots of different people in your career. In the England dressing room, I could be messing about with Freddie and Harmy at the back, but if I wasn't being stupid or in a funny mood you could equally find me having a sensible conversation about cricket with Andrew Strauss. I could do both. OK, I could also be the very annoying Matthew Hoggard who was bored in the changing rooms, causing everybody pain. That side of me has got to change. But, taking on the captaincy, I don't think I'll have time to be bored. If I meet somebody like me there might be some fun but that's the challenge. I want to take it on to challenge myself."

In fact, two years on from what will probably be the last of his 67 Test appearances, he feels the challenge of captaincy was probably necessary to maintain his motivation. He would have preferred it to have been at Headingley. Indeed, he put himself forward to succeed Anthony McGrath in the role before Yorkshire decided, with familiar brutality, that not only did they not see him as captain, they could manage without him as a bowler, too. But Leicestershire sold themselves to him as an attractive consolation.

"Being offered the captaincy was a big swaying point," he says. "I could have gone anywhere, bowled my overs and chewed the cud at third man but playing county cricket can be a long, drawn-out season and I needed something like this, to be involved in games from start to finish and be involved in how the club is run."

Leicestershire have some talented young players, among whom the prodigiously gifted England Under-19 batsman James Taylor stands out, and have recruited the Australian all-rounder Andrew McDonald. But given their results last season, Hoggard appears to have some shaking up to do, although he insists he will focus first on winning respect. "I need to be at the top of my own game before I start dictating to the troops," he says.

Along the line he will want them to be more like him, playing with a creative, independent philosophy. "What I want is for these players to be thinking cricketers. There are too many drones, too many people who just rock up and play and then go home. You've got to think about your cricket. There is no point in me telling a player what to do all the time. The collective aim is to make Leicestershire successful but I want to help players find their own way forward.

"Cricket is an individualistic sport and as long as they are not causing trouble in the dressing room I want people to do what they want. If you had looked at Murali or Malinga, for instance, and tried to make them conform to a particular bowling action, there would have been no Murali or Malinga. People are different."

After a dismal 2009, in which they finished next to bottom of the Pro40 and failed to qualify in either the Friends Provident Trophy or Twenty20 Cup, Leicestershire should benefit from Hoggard's bowling. The sixth most prolific bowler in England's history, with 248 Test scalps, he was Yorkshire's leading first-class wicket-taker last season with 46 and, at 33, shows few signs of diminishing stamina.

The captaincy adventure begins on Friday, when Northamptonshire visit Grace Road. He would like to say it is the only match in his thoughts but he is too honest for that. Leicestershire will not meet Yorkshire in the Championship, nor in the Pro40. But they will come together in Twenty20, at Grace Road on 20 June, at Headingley a week later. The dates, particularly the latter, are in Hoggard's diary and indelibly logged in his head.

He says his acrimonious leaving is "done and dusted" but admits the hurt lingers. "I'm a Yorkshire lad through and through. If you chop me in half, you'll see 'Yorkshire' running through me." What made it worse was that his last appearance had passed before he was told he would not be coming back. "There was no chance to say goodbye, which is what really annoyed me. When I left, it felt like I was sloping off like a thief in the night. But things happen, and you have to move on. I was dischuffed how things turned out but I've no problem with anyone on the cricket side and I'll probably have a beer with the players when I go back."

Nonetheless, he is frank about the outcome he would like on the field: "Hopefully we can rub their noses in it." He might even show them what they have missed as a captain. "It's not something I've done before and I might not be very good. I'm very lucky to know Michael Vaughan very well. It is nice to have his number on my phone but I'm not going to clone myself on Michael. I'm Matthew Hoggard, a completely different person. I'll take the good bits from the captains I've known and add my own personality."

Whatever else happens, it will be a uniquely interesting mix.

County Championship Division One

Durham

Hard to bet against them for a third consecutive title. Albie Morkel will make them contenders in Twenty20.

Prediction 1st.

Key signings Morkel (South Africa, T20), Ben Stokes (Academy).

Did you know Steve Harmison (401 wickets) needs 519 to pass Simon Brown as Durham's leading first-class wicket-taker.

Essex

Lack of strike bowling and limited availability of Danish Kaneria do not bode well.

Prediction 8th.

Key signing Billy Godleman (Middlesex)

Did you know Have not won title since back-to-back wins in 1991 and 1992.

Hampshire

Enough new blood to make an impact but fitness will be key.

Prediction 4th.

Key signings Neil McKenzie (ex-South Africa, Kolpak), Kabir Ali, Simon Jones (both Worcs), Ajantha Mendis (Sri Lanka), Abdul Razzaq, Shahid Afridi (both Pakistan, T20).

Did you know Veteran Dominic Cork needs 583 for 10,000 runs and 78 for 1,000 wickets in first-class cricket.

Kent

The collapse of the Australian paceman Stuart Clark's move could diminish their prospects.

Prediction 7th.

Key signings Malinga Bandara (Sri Lanka), Dewald Nel (Scotland).

Did you know Had losses of more than £800,000 last year.

Lancashire

Strong winter signings plus late-season return of Andrew Flintoff may give Durham something to think about.

Prediction 2nd.

Key signings Stephen Moore (Worcs), Daren Powell (ex-West Indies, Kolpak), Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka), Ashwell Prince (South Africa).

Did you know Lancs captain Glen Chapple begins his 19th season as a first-team player.

Nottinghamshire

Good crop of winter signings has bolstered strong squad. Can expect a top-three finish.

Prediction 3rd.

Key signings Hashim Amla (South Africa), Dirk Nannes (Australia, T20), Neil Edwards (Somerset), Graeme White (Northants).

Did you know Chris Read was the only Notts man to top 1,000 first-class runs in 2009.

Somerset

Murali Kartik is valuable addition but may be better at T20.

Prediction 5th.

Key signings Kartik (Middlesex), Kieron Pollard (West Indies, T20), Cameron White (Australia, T20).

Did you know Marcus Trescothick was the 2009 Championship's leading run- scorer with 1,817 runs.

Warwickshire

Likely absence of Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott limits their run-scoring potential.

Prediction 9th.

Key signings Varun Chopra (Essex), Imran Tahir (Hampshire).

Did you know Club record profit of £1.15m last year.

Yorkshire

Young talent and new captain in Andrew Gale but inexperience could work against them.

Prediction 6th.

Key signings Ryan Harris (Australia), Herschelle Gibbs (South Africa), Tino Best (West Indies).

Did you know Last county to win three consecutive Championship titles, from 1966-68.

Jon Culley

Division Two

Derbyshire

Spinner Robin Peterson brings balance but difficult to see them winning matches.

Prediction 5th.

Key signings Robin Peterson (South Africa, Kolpak), Steffan Jones (Somerset), Loots Bosman (South Africa, T20).

Did you know Derbyshire will play at Leek Cricket Club for the first time in 18 years when they host Essex in the Clydesdale Bank 40 on 3 May.

Glamorgan

Signings of Shaun Tait and Mark Cosgrove suggest they will focus on Twenty20.

Prediction 9th.

Key signings Mark Cosgrove (Australia), Shaun Tait (Australia, T20), Jim Allenby (Leicestershire).

Did you know Former England spinner Robert Croft, in his 22nd season, will be 40 on 25 May.

Gloucestershire

Finished fourth last season but may struggle to finish above mid-table.

Prediction 6th.

Key signing Jonathan Batty (Surrey).

Did you know Have won nine one-day trophies but no Championships.

Leicestershire

Could be surprise contenders with Andrew McDonald and new captain Matthew Hoggard boosting the bowling.

Prediction 3rd.

Key signings McDonald (Australia), Brad Hodge (Australia, T20), Will Jefferson (Nottinghamshire), James Benning (Surrey), Hoggard (Yorkshire).

Did you know Took the wooden spoon in 2009 for the first time since 1962.

Middlesex

With Iain O'Brien and Pedro Collins joining Steve Finn and Tim Murtagh, Middlesex have the attack for a promotion bid.

Prediction 2nd.

Key signings O'Brien (Leicestershire), Scott Newman (Surrey), Pedro Collins (Kolpak), Adam Gilchrist (Australia, T20).

Did you know Andrew Strauss is the eighth Middlesex player to captain England.

Northamptonshire

Return of Mal Loye a plus but blocking of Virender Sehwag's T20 deal leaves them weaker.

Prediction 8th

Key signings Loye (Lancashire), James Middlebrook (Essex).

Did you know Have finished bottom of the table 11 times.

Surrey

A busy winter of several interesting signings has equipped them to improve on last season's seventh place.

Prediction 4th.

Key signings Steven Davies, Gareth Batty (both Worcestershire), Chris Tremlett (Hampshire), Rory Hamilton-Brown (Sussex), Rao Iftikhar Anjum (Pakistan).

Did you know Hamilton-Brown is the Championship's youngest captain at 22.

Sussex

Monty Panesar should show that relegation was a blip.

Prediction 1st.

Key signings James Anyon (Warwickshire), Panesar (Northamptonshire).

Did you know Chris Nash hit 1,321 first-class runs last year.

Worcestershire

Hard to see them bouncing back from relegation.

Prediction 7th.

Key signings Phil Jaques (Australia), Shakib-al-Hasan (Bangladesh), Alan Richardson (Middlesex), Ben Scott (Middlesex).

Did you know Have not been bottom of table for 78 years.

Jon Culley

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