Hoggard the hero: why his big day was a triumph for the fast bowlers' fraternity

England's match-winner talks to Angus Fraser about the toil, pain and injustice that are the paceman's lot
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Captains and batsmen do not understand fast bowlers. They think they do, because they like to believe they are the craftsmen, cricketers who know everything about the game. Most captains are batsmen, and in their eyes the bowlers are artisans, little toys without a mind of their own who they can play with and order about.

Captains and batsmen do not understand fast bowlers. They think they do, because they like to believe they are the craftsmen, cricketers who know everything about the game. Most captains are batsmen, and in their eyes the bowlers are artisans, little toys without a mind of their own who they can play with and order about.

But they have little idea of how it feels to sprint in from 30 yards in searing heat and propel a small red leather ball at a batsman at anything between 75 and 95 miles per hour.

A fast bowler does not smile a lot because his job is bloody hard work, and anybody who has performed the task for a period of time will be aware of its pain and injustice. He needs to begrudge the willow-wielders every run they score because bowling is not meant to be fun, and there are plenty of days when you do not want to spend any more time in the sun than you absolutely have to. Bowlers also realise that on most days they will have little to show for their efforts.

Bowlers have little time for batsmen, who feel sorry for themselves when they break a finger. When batters walk about with their digit in a splint looking for sympathy you want to tell them to "stop being such a tart and get out there". This is because bowlers seldom play without an ache or pain and when they get injured it normally results in surgery. Indeed, there are few members of the fraternity who have not woken up with a dry throat and the horrible taste of anaesthetic in their mouth.

Now these may sound like the ramblings of a sad, cynical, bitter and twisted old fast bowler who is looking for sympathy after years and years of toil. And to a certain extent they are. But a bowler needs to believe that life is unjust, and that the world is against him, if he wants to get into the right frame of mind.

Matthew Hoggard may not have looked like this sort of individual when he bowled South Africa out on Monday, but he is. And that is why I love him. England's 12-wicket hero is a bowlers' bowler in every sense. He is cussed, hard-working, independent, as honest as the day is long and has no time for fools.

This attitude has, and will continue to irritate the "fancy dans" who attempt to control him. But he could not give a stuff, and he is not alone. Stephen Harmison and Andrew Flintoff have not always been popular figures among the England hierarchy but like Hoggard they prefer to do things their own way.

Fast bowlers stick together. They enjoy each other's company and recognise their common goal - to get batsmen out. It does not matter which country's badge is on your shirt. This was highlighted by the fact that Hoggard spent an evening with Allan Donald, the legendary South African fast bowler, three days before the fourth Test. Cricket may have been discussed, but Hoggard said they spent most of the evening talking about the virtues of Castle Lager and wine.

Hoggard will never be the bowler that Donald was, but respect is not gained through the volume of wickets you take, it is earned by giving it your all every time you walk on to a cricket field. Indeed the 28-year-old's match-winning performance in the fourth Test will have been commented on by fellow members of the clan in all corners of the world, but it will not have changed their opinion of him. This is because he had already shown the size of his heart.

"It is nice to be called big-hearted, and for people to realise that I am always prepared to bowl," Hoggard admitted yesterday. "But I am playing for my country. I am doing what I wanted to do as a young boy. I am living my boyhood dreams and you shouldn't need more incentive than that. Stephen Harmison and Andrew Flintoff would run through brick walls for you, and it is a trait that most fast bowlers have."

Unlike a couple of recent England fast bowlers - Darren Gough and Dominic Cork - Michael Vaughan will not have to worry about the adulation going to Hoggard's head. England's unlikely hero is happier taking his dogs for a walk than appearing on television, and he would rather go for a pint at his local pub than receive the five-star treatment at a posh restaurant.

"It's always nice to get the accolades when you have done well," he said. "But I don't really enjoy being in the spotlight. It is not that I don't want to do well but I quite like to keep myself to myself and go about my business quietly."

I happened to knock into him yesterday morning as I was wandering around the Sandton City shopping centre in Johannesburg. After a heavy night celebrating Hoggard did not look at his best. It was hard to believe he was the man who had just taken 7 for 61 and bowled England to a breathtaking 77-run victory. Unshaven, and with his hair all over the place, I congratulated him before enquiring where he was going. "For Kentucky Fried Chicken," he said. "I am in need of some grease." And off he went.

Hoggard told me in an interview with The Independent before the fourth Test how pleased he was with the way he was bowling and during England's win everything about his game looked easy. Unlike Harmison, he was not straining to get to the crease and the ball came out of his hand beautifully.

"When you have that sort of rhythm you are just trying to stay in that bubble and keep on bowling," he explained yesterday. "Sometimes when you find a good rhythm and you are putting the ball in the right areas you then try and go that extra bit further and try and bowl magic balls. You try and ball bowls that pitch leg and hit off and this is when you start to bowl badly again.

"In the past I have done this. I have tended to get a bit excited and have tried to get the batsman out, but I had Vaughny at mid-off telling me not to get bored and to keep on aiming for off-stump and that helped. I just tried to get the ball in the right area and let the wicket do the work."

Michael Vaughan must have been a bowler in a previous life.

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