While the big two were away with their size 10s up England found a new fast bowler. It is possible that Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick will come to rue the day that they let in Matthew Hoggard by the back door. In their absence he has made himself at home and located the keys of the kingdom.
Hoggard bowled against India during the Test series late last year with control, determination and not a little intelligence. He was an unlikely leader of England's attack, but he looked in command. The ball did not swing for him before the final match, but he never let it ruffle his direction or temper.
He returned home with nine more Test wickets – taking his total to 10 – together with an enhanced reputation. The Yorkshire kid with the shaven head who likes acting the goat had demonstrated that he knew when to get serious.
At the other end, also wielding a new ball, was the big Lancashire lad, Andrew Flintoff who also likes a lark and also showed he could mean business.
But now come the big two riding into town again and demanding a slice of the action. Hoggard will not be a pushover. The one-day series against India begins on Saturday and he is in contention for a place. The probability is that only two of Gough, Caddick and Hoggard will play. Nobody, including the selectors, yet knows the permutation.
"You can't weaken your side by bringing Gough or Caddick back," Hoggard said. "It's my job to push them, learn off them and hopefully keep one of them out. They're proven and tested. I've had a good series. There's a lot to prove and a lot that could go wrong.
"I'm up for this challenge. They're still the guys in possession really. They've got a great opening partnership going. I'm big mates with Goughy from growing up round the Yorkshire dressing-room with him. There's maybe a bit more competition between me and Caddy. I think Goughy is more confident, but it's a good relationship. I openly admit I'm trying to take their places, I go up to them and tell them, but there's no competitive talk really, it's just looks you get in the nets."
If Gough and Caddick had not quite usurped Trueman and Statham in the affections of English cricket lovers they had become synonymous with the new ball. For 25 successive Test matches they opened the bowling together, many more than dear Fred and Brian managed in a row in days of yore.
They carried over their partnership into the one-day stuff as well. Gough harried the batsmen, skidded the ball through, Caddick was more languid, disturbing them with vicious bounce. One was constantly perky, the other was sterner of countenance, but it worked. They worked. In tandem they saw off Zimbabwe, West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. If the others were turning up not many of them, it seemed, were bothering to take wickets.
The first split in the combination occurred in Zimbabwe last autumn when they were rightly granted a holiday. Then Gough pulled out of the winter Tests in need of further rest and Caddick withdrew from the first Indian leg of the tour because of family fears about the war in Afghanistan.
They have returned, but they now know that nothing lasts forever and nothing in sport lasts beyond the next match. The one-day series in India and New Zealand over the next seven weeks could signal the end for them. Of course, it could herald a new beginning as well, a point they make with some relish.
Around the camp it is as if they have never been away, but still everybody knows what the replacement has done and how tough a break his being dropped would be.
The Yorkshireman made his Test debut in 2000 at Lord's against West Indies when England won a heart-stoppingly famous victory by two wickets. He sat helmeted, padded up and tense in the dressing-room while the runs were, alternatively, hammered and eked out.
Hoggard did not reappear until last summer (in the team, that is, not from the dressing- room) when he played only one match. He did not make his one-day debut until Zimbabwe. Since he has been around the team for two years some people, even the captain, assume he has greater experience than four one-dayers and five Tests.
"Nasser Hussain was very surprised in Zimbabwe. He said it's not your first game is it. It's nice to be classed as someone who's played a lot of cricket. I must be doing something right. But I'm still a wee bairn." With the hair, or lack of it, a shambling gait and a disconcerting tendency to pull faces Hoggard can convey the impression of being a bit soft. Far from it, as India discovered. He is considerably brighter than he likes to appear and nor is he worried about evaluating himself.
"I don't feel out of my depth at the moment. I've only played in India and things can change. I've had one good tour and I've got to go out and prove myself over and over again because now I've set a standard and if I drop below that I'm going to be shot down." If the selectors fire the first bullet when the team is announced on Saturday they will surely do so knowing that Hoggard, like Gough and Caddick, will be back.Reuse content