As England's most successful bowler in 2002 with 46 wickets Matthew Hoggard should be looking forward to a nice relaxing Christmas, safe in the knowledge that his career is moving in the right direction. However, after being dropped for the Perth Test and the pre-Christmas round of one-day matches because it was felt he had lost confidence, the Yorkshire pace bowler finds his immediate international future in the precarious hands of the selectors.
With selection for the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne and England's 15-man World Cup squad to be announced in the next few days, Hoggard's festive season could be either happy or hollow. "It is going to be an apprehensive and strange Christmas," he said. "I have never had nets on Christmas Day before and that will be strange, but hopefully it is going to be a happy one. Hopefully I can get my Test place back and I will be doing all that I can to achieve this. I don't think I could have done any more than I did in Perth."
For it is in Western Australia that Hoggard and the other six Test players whose services were not required during the VB Series have spent the last fortnight preparing for this week's Test and, in an effort to win his place back, the 25-year-old has been looking to his Australian opponents for some tips.
"When I was in Perth Duncan Fletcher [the England coach] sent me a copy of a statement that Glenn McGrath made," he said. "It was about the way he thinks about his bowling, the way he trains and his mental approach.
"On the technical side we looked at Jason Gillespie when we worked on my run-up. He has a short run-up where everything is tight, close in and up taller. I have shortened my run up from 23 to 19 paces to make me feel taller, stronger and more compact at the crease. Even though I will look absolutely nothing like him it feels that everything is there at the moment for me. I have worked hard in the nets with [the England bowling coach] Graham Dilley and we have got it right."
While the opposition were not as testing as he has previously faced, such confidence has been backed up by figures of 8 for 119 during the warm-up game against the National Academy last week in Perth.
If Hoggard makes the Test XI on Boxing Day there will be one change in the side he faces. Following Shane Warne's shoulder dislocation the Australian selectors have called up their No 2 leg-spinner, Stuart MacGill.
As a citizen of any other country, the New South Welshman would have played far more than his 17 Test matches. With 81 wickets MacGill has taken his opportunities when they have arisen, but he has had to be content to play second fiddle to the great man.
"Any team missing a superb bowler like Warne, whose record speaks for itself, is going to find it a big loss," said Hoggard on hearing of MacGill's selection. "It is the name that gets him a lot of wickets so they are going to miss him. It is going to be a psychological boost to us, because who would you rather face – MacGill or Warne – and a downer for them. And every little helps on this tour."
Hoggard's research into bowlers may not have gone as far as it should because MacGill's record against England – 27 wickets in four Tests at an average of 17.7 – is better than Warne's.
* The Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Ancram has sent a letter to the England captain Nasser Hussain urging him to refuse to play in Zimbabwe, saying it would "morally, humanly and rationally wrong" to play there in the World Cup.
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