Hoggard strikes the perfect pitch

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The Independent Online

As the captain, the coach and presumably their charges agree, England are second favourites for the forthcoming Test series and perhaps we shall soon discover why. That should not diminish the significance of their thumping win over the Patron's XI yesterday.

As the captain, the coach and presumably their charges agree, England are second favourites for the forthcoming Test series and perhaps we shall soon discover why. That should not diminish the significance of their thumping win over the Patron's XI yesterday.

It will not change the odds, or not so any turf accountant in Delhi would notice. Nor was it, as had been suggested, England's solitary first-class victory in this country since winning their first Test here nearly 39 years ago, though it rather felt like it since it was actually all of 23 years ago that the touring side led by Mike Brearley beat the Governor's XI in Peshawar.

On that occasion Geoff Boycott scored a century and England were again indebted to Yorkshire for seeing them home here by an innings and 27 runs. Craig White followed Boycott, by making 120, and yesterday Matthew Hoggard, the reserve fast bowler, took to nine his tally of wickets in the match.

Hoggard's second-innings 4 for 40 was perhaps moreimpressive than his firstinnings' return of 5 for 62. He was not, he said afterwards, a stats man but confirmed that it was the best match analysis of his career.

In truth, he will never find a better pitch for a swing and seam bowler in the whole of the subcontinent. It had grass on it throughout, real green stuff and he must have thought he was walking across the rugby ground at Headingley on the way to the cricket arena.

The persistent off-stump line and his willingness to dig it in short and extract bounce deserved the reward. Hoggard is a hostile soul on the pitch, as he should be, but a laughing fellow off it. Three of his wickets went to catches behind, the fourth was lbw (two such decisions were awarded to England). He also executed a direct hit to gain a run out, veering smartly to his right and throwing down the stumps at the striker's end.

England needed nine more wickets at the start of the fourth day and there was never much doubt that they would get them. Both Ashley Giles and Ian Salisbury turned it and if the left-arm spinner was the more fluent the leg spinner's googly looks in good order.

The opposition failed to delay them much and as soon as Giles took the final wicket, England dashed off, only to return eagerly just minutes later. A net was erected on the pitch and out they came for practice. They might have had an afternoon off but this demonstrated their tremendous work ethic. The Patron's XI, whose batting was brittle on this pitch, did not provide a severe examination. England did what was necessary.

There is one more warm-up match in Peshawar this week when the four rested players - Nasser Hussain, Alec Stewart, Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick - will return. All eyes will be on Stewart after the trauma of his alleged and denied involvement with an Indian bookie. Then it will be time for the Test matches. Then England will know the truth about themselves.

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