Hoggard is happy to be England's head waiter

Stephen Brenkley says the 'fifth' seamer will learn much this winter
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The Independent Online

It was probably always a myth that when England wanted a fast bowler they would whistle down a Yorkshire pit-shaft whence a huge, horny-handed man would emerge blinking into the light, at the speed of which he would then deliver the ball. An abiding image, though, and one which Matthew Hoggard might have fitted exactly.

It was probably always a myth that when England wanted a fast bowler they would whistle down a Yorkshire pit-shaft whence a huge, horny-handed man would emerge blinking into the light, at the speed of which he would then deliver the ball. An abiding image, though, and one which Matthew Hoggard might have fitted exactly.

He is 23 and comes from Pudsey, a cricketing heartland, the birthplace of icons. He has a cropped haircut, a square jaw, an aggressive run, a muscular delivery and enough pace and movement to make them hurry. Not that he was summoned from the coalface. For a start, there are none left, and for a second he was studying for his A-levels, with the intention of becoming a vet, when cricket intervened.

The chance to join the Yorkshire Academy deflected his attention from the series of top grades necessary to learn to study the medical treatment of animals. He still emerged from Pudsey Grangefield Sixth Form with two B and two C grades, but by then his ambition was to do something other with his right arm than stick it up the backsides of cattle.

Hoggard has put it to good use. He first played for Yorkshire in 1996, gradually establishing himself in a county which now has as many seamers as it once had miners. Last summer - which he finished with 46 first-class wickets at 26 and a county record tally of one-day wickets including 37 in the National League - he won his first England Test cap. On Thursday he embarked on the first part of a winter away with the England squad on their trips to Kenya, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. He is one of the 11 players who will be in both the one-day and Test parties, having been called up to the former when Alan Mullally's rib injury forced his withdrawal.

The Yorkshireman is the latest English bowler to assume the mantle as the seamer in waiting which has been recently worn (and discarded, at least temporarily) by Chris Silverwood, Alex Tudor and Steve Harmison. He won the Freeserve speed competition for young bowlers last summer with a delivery timed at 86.2 mph, but his pace is not quite in the lightning class yet ("I think I've got some more fuel in the tank"). He possesses away swing and reverse swing, as well as that combination peculiar to fast bowlers of aggression in battle and easy- going charm out of it.

Making the team this winter may not be high on the list of Hoggard's expectations. England at last have a seaming quartet with an air of permanence. But tours are arduous affairs which sap strength, form and will.

If Hoggard does not get his chance in Nairobi in the ICC Knockout in the next fortnight something could well have cropped up by the time England reach Karachi in mid-December or Colombo in late March. He already has enough memories of international cricket to last a thousand years. His solitary appearance so far was in the 100th Test match at Lord's which England won by two wickets at 7.03pm on the third evening before a packed, rapt and ultimately rapturous house.

Hoggard had bowled well enough but took no wickets. He spent the last 44 minutes of his international career to date sitting on the dressing-room balcony clad in pads, helmet, elbow guard and most of the other protective accoutrements needed to keep at bay the great West Indian fast bowlers Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. It was not the warm July sunshine that was making him sweat.

One more wicket and England's No 11 would have been required to hoist himself from his seat and make the walk through the Long Room into the seething cauldron. Dominic Cork and Darren Gough rendered the journey redundant.

Three months on, Hoggard can reflect on that thrilling episode in the history of the game and be aware that his contribution could have been more significant. "A little bit of me wants to have played a bigger part, to have got the chance to bat," he said last week. Two runs needed and a sneaky edge wide of second slip perhaps? "An orthodox drive through the covers all the way to the boundary," he corrected.

Hoggard has a cricketing pedigree to envy. Pudsey, where he has lived all his life, was the home of Sir Len Hutton and Raymond Illingworth, though their successor has played all his cricket for Pudsey Congs (as in Congregational Church) rather than the rival club St Lawrence. From the first time he picked up a ball he wanted to be a fast man ("I didn't want to waste my time with spin") and a few adjustments aside, has an entirely natural action.

"When I was starting out, my dad spent an hour and a half in the back garden with me. I just used to hop in the delivery stride and he helped me to iron it out. After that there hasn't been all that much technical coaching. When I was invited to Yorkshire to try for the Academy they asked me to bowl for 10 minutes and said they'd make their decision on that, and they did."

He has spent the last two winters in South Africa playing for Free State and won admirers. Allan Donald, home-town hero, helped him hone his run-up. If it is not yet quite the smooth glide of a swan it is less the bustle of a man jostling for his place at the bar on a Friday night.

Hoggard will probably not play for England in Kenya this week but under this regime, if he is diligent, he will be welcomed as an integral member of the squad.

As for England's chances, they should beat Bangladesh on Thursday in this first challenge of the winter. South Africa lie in wait, with Australia probably to come in the semi-final afterwards and a possible first prize of $170,000 at stake. Despite recent progress, experience suggests that English followers should not be looking quite so far.

Into Africa: England squad and itinerary


N Hussain (Essex, capt), M W Alleyne (Gloucestershire), A R Caddick (Somerset), M A Ealham (Kent), A Flintoff (Lancashire), A F Giles (Warwickshire), D Gough (Yorkshire), G A Hick (Worcestershire),M J Hoggard (Yorkshire), V S Solanki(Worcestershire), A J Stewart (Surrey),M E Trescothick (Somerset), G P Thorpe (Surrey), C White (Yorkshire).


3 Oct: India v Kenya. 4 Oct: Sri Lanka v West Indies. 5 Oct: England v Bangladesh. 7 Oct: Australia v winners match 1. 8 Oct: Pakistan v winners match 2. 9 Oct: New Zealand v Zimbabwe. 10 Oct: South Africa v winners match 3. 11 Oct: First semi-final (winners match 5 v winners match 6). 13 Oct: Second semi-final (winners match 4 v winners match 7). 15 Oct: Final.