Hoggard forgoes star status in bid to swing series England's way

Bowlers like Matthew Hoggard are the foot soldiers of cricket, the beetle crushers, the poor bloody infantry. They may not be glamorous but they are useful for doing the hard work that others often seem reluctant to undertake.

Bowlers like Matthew Hoggard are the foot soldiers of cricket, the beetle crushers, the poor bloody infantry. They may not be glamorous but they are useful for doing the hard work that others often seem reluctant to undertake.

They are the bowlers who toil uphill and into the wind so that the precious superstars in the team can have everything they want. They tend to be large, uncomplicated and philosophical creatures, who love to ruck about the nature of their job, but they get on with it none the less and ask for little in return.

Every captain needs at least one of these players in his team because they are the characters he can rely on when the flak starts to fly around. But there are times when their qualities are overlooked for a more exotic beast and Hoggard has suffered from this more than most.

Hoggard made his Test debut in a remarkable match against the West Indies at Lord's in 2000. England bowled out the tourists for 54 in their second innings and won a thrilling match by two wickets. There are many images from the game that stand out, but the strongest was that of a petrified-looking 23-year-old sitting on the England balcony with his pads on waiting to bat.

It has taken the Yorkshireman almost four years to establish himself as a Test cricketer but it is in his hand that Michael Vaughan will place the new ball this morning should England find themselves fielding in the fourth Test against South Africa.

Andrew Flintoff has been England's best bowler in the first three games of this five-Test series, but Hoggard has taken 12 wickets and given him consistent support. The swing bowler has taken a wicket in five of his six opening spells and has dismissed Graeme Smith, the South African captain, on three occasions.

"The ball seems to be coming out of my hand really well at the moment," Hoggard said. "I am pitching it in the right area and it is nice when the ball comes out like this because it happens without you thinking about it.

"My form has been helped by the fact that I now believe I am going to get a decent run in the side, which on previous tours has not always been the case. My role is to be the 'Mr Reliable' and it is one I enjoy. I don't get bored easily and I am capable of doing what the captain wants me to do.

"But if the ball is swinging I am also an attacking bowler and it has been nice to get some early wickets and to chip in at the bottom of the order. Obviously, I can make improvements and hopefully I can keep it going for the final two matches."

Hoggard, who will play in his 37th Test match for England today, is on course for his most successful tour to date - he took 17 wickets in New Zealand in 2001-02 - in the country which played a significant role in his development as a cricketer.

Before he made his England debut Hoggard spent four winters playing in South Africa. Two of these were spent playing club cricket for Pirates in Johannesburg and two playing first-class cricket for Orange Free State. And Hoggard feels the experience he gained during his time here has helped him enormously in this series.

"I feel at home here," he said. "Coming back has almost been like a homecoming because the the cricket I played here was an important part of my upbringing. I have been drawing on the knowledge I gained and have been attempting to bring it into these Test matches. I know the conditions a lot better than other members of our side and I am not on strange territory when I bowl on these pitches.

"My time here taught me that if you don't bowl line and length you get carted, especially in Bloemfontein, which is not a quick wicket. It is a place where you have to work hard for your wickets and that is something I have always been prepared to do. I also learnt a lot through bowling with Allan Donald and through playing under Hansie Cronje."

Hoggard may take the new ball for England but he is the most unglamorous member of Vaughan's pace quartet. There have been England bowlers - Dominic Cork and Darren Gough, to name but two - who have been obsessed with the limelight and being looked upon as the team's main man. But Hoggard is not interested in any of that. He enjoys sitting in the background quietly getting on with his job.

"I am very happy being the quiet one of the four," he said. "I also think it has helped me sneak a couple of wickets because everybody seems to forget about me. On occasions the opposition seem to think, 'Well they've got Harmison - he's quick and bouncy. They've got Flintoff - he's fiery and he's going to nip it around a bit, and there's Jones, who's skiddy. And, oh yeah, there's that Hoggard bloke at the other end.' Quite often after being roughed up by Harmison and Flintoff they relax a little when I come into the attack."

One batsman who has not fallen for this trap, or any other England have laid, is Jacques Kallis. Hoggard dismissed South Africa's star batsman - caught at deep square leg - in the first innings in Durban, but by then he had scored 162 runs.

And since, he has had as much difficulty attempting to get him out as the rest of England's attack. I asked him whether he had seen any weaknesses in Kallis's game.

"Geoff Boycott gave us a tip the other day," he said. "I went off the field to change my shirt and the commentary was on the television. As I was changing he said: 'This bloke Kallis, I just don't know how they are going to get him out. He plays forward well and on the back foot he either ducks it or rolls his hands on the hook shot. The only way these lot are going to get him out is to run him out.' I thought, 'Thanks a lot, Boycs', but you get used to him talking like that.

"Kallis is the most patient player I have ever bowled at. If it is a good ball he blocks it and if it is a bad ball he puts it away. We will have to come up with a plan against him or get a swinging nut that gets him early doors."

Hoggard may get his wish here at the Wanderers Ground. The weather forecast is indifferent and this may give a swing bowler the conditions he wants.

"I have played here twice before and it is a great ground to play cricket at," Hoggard said. "The stands rise steeply and it is very noisy, but the new ball does swing. This makes the first 20 overs of the game very important."

QUIET EFFICIENCY: UNSUNG BOWLER'S VITAL STATISTICS

Born: 31 December 1976, Leeds

First-class clubs: Yorkshire, Free State.

Batting style: Right-hand

Bowling style: Right-arm fast medium

Test debut: England v West Indies at Lord's, Second Test, 2000. Figures: 13 overs bowled, 49 runs conceded, no wickets. England won by two wickets.

One-Day International debut: England v Zimbabwe at Harare, First ODI, 2001-02. Figures: 10 overs, 25 runs, 2 wickets. England won by five wickets.

Current Test ranking (Bowling): 14.

CAREER STATISTICS

TEST MATCHES:

Bowling

Overs: 1280.2
Runs: 4,152
Wkts: 129
Ave: 32.18
BBI: 7-63

Batting

Mtchs: 36
Ings: 47
NO: 20
Runs: 268
HS: 38
Ave: 9.92

ONE-DAY INTERNATIONALS

Bowling including 23/01/2003

Overs: 162.4
Runs: 817
Wkts: 27
Ave: 30.25
BBI: 5-49

What do the experts think?
"He swings it late. It is a natural talent he has always had since he was about 14." Yorkshire bowling coach, Steve Oldham.

"Matthew was patient. He worked out where he wanted to bowl and how he wanted to bowl." England bowling coach, Graham Dilley.

Getting personal: He is the 602nd player to represent England; also a columnist for the BBC; has a dog called Molly, a Border Collie; if not a cricketer would like to be a vet; favourite snack is Hovis with cheddar cheese, or a Twix.

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