Matthew Hoggard retires: He took 248 wickets – and hit one amazing four


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The Independent Online

There is plenty to remember Matthew Hoggard for. The hat-trick at Bridgetown in 2004 springs quickly to mind. The magnificent spell of swing bowling the following year in Johannesburg, which came from nowhere and won a Test match, would be on anybody's list of decisive interventions.

The two particularly splendid balls to remove Michael Clarke and Adam Gilchrist either side of lunch at Trent Bridge in that golden summer of 2005 were crucial, a paean to his craft. Yet it is none of these which will be at the top of the pile when Hoggard's deeds are being recounted following his retirement today a few months away from his 37th birthday.

It was something that happened later on that unforgettable August Sunday in Nottingham. Hoggard was no batsman, endlessly fearless but frequently clueless. Only five of the 154 men to have played more than 20 Tests for England have a worse batting average. In a career which eventually embraced 92 Test innings, Hoggard managed to hit 42 fours. One will be spoken of for as long as the game is played.

England needed 13 runs to win the fourth Test and go 2-1 up in the epic series when Hoggard went in. They were already seven wickets down and in severe danger of mucking it up. Brett Lee was bowling like the wind, Shane Warne was playing conjuring tricks. It was no place for bowlers who could not bat.

The target was whittled down to eight runs. Lee softened Hoggard up with a series of bouncers which he evaded. Everyone there knew what was coming soon: the toe-crushing, 90mph yorker. Lee went for it but mercifully, miraculously he overcooked it by a fraction.

A searing full-length inswinger turned into a rapid, low full toss. And praise be, Hoggard leant forward as if he might have been the reincarnation of Len Hutton and unfurled a rasping cover drive as nonchalantly as a lounge lizard ordering a cocktail. It raced to the boundary. Four runs were still wanted but in that moment it was all but done.

It is paradoxical and it may be slightly unfair that one of England's most accomplished swing bowlers who was a batting duffer should be recalled for one shot. But Hoggy or Matthew, never Matt, will hardly mind. An iconoclastic soul and much smarter, both as bowler and man, than he often tried to convey, he might have been a vet had things gone differently.

He ended with 248 Test wickets, seventh in the England list and the second Yorkshireman. His career was brought to cruel termination in the middle of a tour of New Zealand when it was decided that he had lost his zip forever. He then wound down his career improbably as captain of Leicestershire.

Perhaps his outstanding individual moment was at Bridgetown when on a Saturday morning he knocked the middle out of the West Indies in a flash and set up an England win.

But his magnificence at the Wanderers when Michael Vaughan's team were approaching their peak defined his contribution. He took 7 for 61 with adeptly controlled swing to which there was no answer.

He was usually full of self-conscious self-deprecation. "I just wang it down and hope for the best," he would say. But his best was formidable and for one eternal moment he also possessed a divine cover drive. Only one of England's pace quartet from the 2005 series now survives on the field: Simon Jones, the least likely of the lot.

England's one-day international against Australia at Edgbaston today, the third in the NatWest Series, was abandoned by rain with the home side in dangerous territory at 59 for 3 after 15.1 overs.