Matthew Hoggard: Sadly, it seems for our season's biggest game I'll have a mic not a ball in my hand
What I Learnt This Week
Saturday 06 August 2011
The good news is that it looks as though I will have a role to play in today's Friends Life t20 quarter-final at Grace Road.
But while a positive report earlier this week on my injured wrist gave me just a chance of returning to the Leicestershire side to face Kent, the likelihood is that I'll have a microphone in my hand this evening rather than a cricket ball.
Doing radio work would be no substitute for playing in what is a massive game for my county but at least it is a way of keeping occupied when I could be chewing my fingernails.
I knew when I tore a tendon in my right wrist a month ago that I was struggling to make the quarter-finals – and it could have been even more serious than that. Thankfully, though, the scan I had on Wednesday showed that everything is where it should be and has healed well, so now I can get cracking on trying to get some overs under my belt.
I bowled on Thursday without feeling any pain but it would be wrong of me to put myself up for selection today if I'm not 100 per cent. And while our match does not start until 5pm, which means I've got a few extra hours, I have to think it is a long shot to believe I could go straight into a game of this importance with just a couple of days of practice behind me.
I'll be gutted to miss out, of course I will, but I know that whatever team we field will be the right one for the match we're playing. We've got a lot of options and no matter who gets the nod I'm optimistic we'll come out with a victory.
We've had quite a few injuries and absences just lately. But Andrew McDonald arrived back earlier this week, having had to return to Australia for family reasons, while Harry Gurney is fit and bowling again following a hamstring problem.
It would be a bit of an understatement to say we've experienced an up and down summer so far. Our Championship cricket has not gone anything like according to plan, but winning today would be a massive, massive boost for the club.
For a start, it would mean a place in Finals Day at Edgbaston in three weeks and a big day out for our fans, who deserve a reward for their loyal support. On top of that it would put us one more victory closer to a place in the Champions League qualifying tournament, to be played in India towards the end of September, and two victories away from lifting a trophy this season.
This Twenty20 competition is a big thing for all 18 counties but for us to reach Finals Day, given we are one of the smaller clubs, would be an enormous achievement and a real lift for everyone associated with Leicestershire.
Whatever happens today, though, we should learn a lot before the end of this season. Twice in the Championship we have collapsed and crumbled (48 all out against Northants and then eight days ago, 34 all out in Essex) and we'll find out who has the mental toughness to respond in the right way.
It would be easy to curl up and say we don't care any more about the competitions we can't win, but between now and the end of the season will be a true test of character.
2. We must win today for legend Nico on his farewell to Grace Road
Today's quarter-final is much bigger than any one player on either side. But for a real legend of the game this will be his last appearance at Grace Road before retirement – and that is another reason why we want to come out on top.
Paul Nixon, wicketkeeper, batsman and one of the most enthusiastic cricketers of all time, is not far short of his 41st birthday but he's definitely got two more matches in him after this one, if only we can make it to Finals Day.
Nico has had a terrific career, mainly with Leicestershire but also while playing for England and Kent. And while there may be a lot of miles on the clock, you only have to watch Paul – or listen to him – for a few minutes to know he is every bit as passionate, eager and energetic about the game now as he was when he set out 24 years ago.
For one thing, he just never stops working, and he can still run rings around the 20-year-olds when it comes to fitness routines. The only problem these days is that he says various bits of his body are now starting to protest a bit.
If his body complained before, I dare say he just used to tell it to shut up. I remember, when we toured Sri Lanka with England a number of years ago, Nico insisted on running back to the hotel from where he had been training for several hours – even though it was five or six miles away and the temperature felt about 100 degrees.
It really was like a furnace. But when I asked him later in the day how he'd enjoyed his run he said: "Great, apart from the fact I could feel the road melting beneath my feet." And he wasn't joking.
Yes, Nico will be very sorely missed and extremely difficult to replace – not only as a keeper and a batsman but also as a motivator and an inspirational figure.
People say there are not as many characters in cricket as there used to be, and that is true. Unfortunately, the game is losing one of its biggest characters with the retirement of Paul Nixon.
3. Well done, India, for reprieving Bell when you were up against it
As you may have noticed, there were a few unusual happenings in cricket last week, what with a player being recalled after he was run out and another sent on his way for obstructing the field.
The biggest talking point, by far, concerned Ian Bell and India's decision to withdraw their appeal about 20 minutes after it had been upheld.
According to the letter of the law, of course, Bell was out. He made a big mistake by not making sure the ball was dead before leaving his crease but, as everyone could see, he wasn't trying to score an extra run. I think that was what niggled away at India during the tea interval – and hats off to them for the decision they took.
It would have been a bit easier for them to show such good sportsmanship had they been in control of the game. But, and this earns them even more credit in my book, India were already struggling and Bell was taking the Test away from them. To allow him to resume his innings was therefore more than just a relatively unimportant gesture.
So what if I'd been in M S Dhoni's position? What would I have said to Bell? "Look in the scorebook, mate, you're out!"
No, I'd like to think I would have done the same thing as India's captain but, in all honesty, it is hard to say exactly how you would react until you find yourself in that situation. It's not something you can practise or rehearse, is it?
But well done to Dhoni and his team-mates for having the courage of their convictions.
Less sporting, according to most accounts, was the performance of Mark Ramprakash, who was given out for obstructing the field while playing for Surrey against Gloucestershire. But unlike the Bell incident, we haven't seen it replayed dozens of times, so unless you were there it is not possible to offer a firm opinion.
What both incidents underline though, is the uncertainty of cricket. Whenever you think you've seen or heard it all, something different comes along to make you sit up and take notice.
4. Flintoff was right – today's side is better than 2005 Ashes heroes
I cannot see anyone arguing against England's right to be regarded as the world's No 1 Test team, provided they continue in the same vein against India. They are making progress in leaps and bounds and have become an extremely ruthless outfit.
What people love to do, of course, is to compare one side with another. Andrew Flintoff was at it this week – and he came to the conclusion that the England of 2011 are stronger, all-round, than the team he and I played for in 2005.
He's probably right, you know. If you look at the two XIs I think you could argue it either way. But our Ashes-winning side of six years ago never played together again and results fell away. This time I think England have a really strong squad – and not just team – with plenty of strength in depth.
For a start, there are more quality bowlers than can be accommodated, with Steve Finn and either Chris Tremlett or Tim Bresnan set to miss out at Edgbaston on Wednesday. And there are some good batsmen ready to come in, if needed, with James Taylor and Ravi Bopara at the front of the queue.
5. Football is all right – for keeping cricketers' warm-ups interesting
I'm sure that amid all the excitement of today's T20 quarter-final you will have forgotten that the English football season starts today. Football? Bah, humbug!
Actually, I'm going to defend football, just for a minute. Or, rather, I'm going to defend the playing of football by professional cricketers as part of their pre-match warm-up routine.
There is always a bit of tutting and frowning when cricketers are injured playing football (it happens a few times every summer), but we have so many warm-ups during the season that you need a variety of routines. And whatever you do there is always a chance someone will tweak a muscle.
No, football is all right with me – in very small doses.
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