Matthew Hoggard: Top hats and tales: Ascot was fun – but I'm lucky to be alive after horseplay turns nasty
What I Learnt This Week
Saturday 18 June 2011
You will have heard, no doubt, about people losing their shirt on the horses. Well, I nearly lost a lot more than my shirt to three of them earlier this week – and that was before I went to Royal Ascot and started betting on also-rans.
In all seriousness, I don't think I've ever been quite so frightened as I was last Saturday while out walking with our two dogs, Billy (the Doberman) and Walter (the Heinz 57 varieties). Batting as a nightwatchman against quick bowlers trying to knock your block off? Forget it.
We were on a footpath, crossing a field, and the dogs were on their leads when these three horses came trotting up. I gave one a friendly pat on the nose to say hello and the next thing I knew he bit my T-shirt on the shoulder, ripping it. Then another one of them bit Billy, knocked him over and started going for him with his front legs. I shouted at the horse to try to get him to stop – and, with that, he kicked out his back legs with his hooves whistling past my nose. Then one of the other horses tried to attack Walter but I had let him off his lead by that stage. He legged it across the field, all three of them decided to chase after him and, thankfully, that gave me and Billy our chance to get out quick. There was a five-foot stile – and the dog went under while I went over.
Fortunately, Walter is a particularly quick runner so he got away as well, leaping straight over the fence without even hesitating, but I can tell you I was still shaking a couple of hours later.
I know cows can be tricky, but I've never before had a problem with horses while out walking, and people I've spoken to since have told me it is very unusual for them to react like that. I can only assume it was the dogs that upset these three, although we had done nothing whatsoever to spook them. I can tell you I will not forget that Saturday stroll in a hurry, though.
If any of those flying hooves had made contact with Billy, I'm sure he would have been brown bread. And the same probably goes for me. I'm just thankful I did not have my son, Ernie, or wife, Sarah, with me at the time.
2. Here's a tip: don't take Michael Vaughan's advice at the races
After one close encounter with horses, you might think I should have steered clear of Royal Ascot on Wednesday. But the invitation for Sarah and me to go to the meeting as guests of my old Yorkshire and England team-mate Michael Vaughan was far too good to turn down.
Michael was presenting a prize after one of the races, but I have to say that was as close as either of us got to finding a winner. He had been given lots of tips, I'd picked up a few but none of them came in.
It was all great fun, though – and, come to think of it, there was a first for me: as far as I can remember it was the first time I had been to a race meeting and actually seen horses. I mean, my previous visits were for stag dos and the like when you tend to make for the bar before the first race and stay there until after the last one.
This time, though, we wandered around the parade ring (with me in my top hat and tails), went to the winners' enclosure and generally enjoyed ourselves mixing with the posh set. We even met Princess Anne, although to be fair she didn't have a huge amount to say to me other than a bit of polite chit-chat.
3. Aussie whinging is music to my ears but Indians are out of tune
And what of cricket, I hear you ask? Well, far be it from me to name-drop but, as I was telling Princess Anne the other day, we've hardly played since last week's column, thanks to some pretty dreadful weather, Still, before we get to Leicestershire's frustrations, there are a couple of international matters worth mentioning.
For a start, how encouraging to hear the Australians ripping into each other, with Simon Katich being particularly scathing about their selectors after they failed to give him another central contract. Something about paying peanuts and getting monkeys, wasn't it? Music to English ears, I reckon, after all those years when all you could hear from Down Under was the sound of Aussie back-slapping.
A lot less welcome, though, was India's announcement that they won't allow the Decision Review System to be used when they play in England later this summer. Excuse me, I must be missing something here. I thought it was an International Cricket Council decision to use DRS in all Test cricket, so how can India go against the majority view just because they don't like it?
As far as I'm concerned, any system that means fewer mistakes are made, and more correct decisions are reached, must be good. But even that's not really the point. If you are going to try something as important as this, then it has to be all or nothing.
4. Plenty of rain means Twenty20 campaign is a bit pointless
It would be nice at this point to be able to review our home T20 Cup matches against Notts and Warwickshire, but there is not a great deal to talk about. Both of them fell foul of the rain with not even a single ball bowled in the Warwickshire match.
Thanks to insurance cover, the financial cost of losing those games to the weather should not be too great. But, from a cricket point of view, the rain may have done us out of two points – and with the squad we've got for this competition we want to be playing and trying to book ourselves a place in the quarter-finals, not sitting in the pavilion talking about what should have won the 2.30 at Ascot.
5. Stop this bidding war by giving Lord's two Tests and rota the rest
We are not alone, of course, in being frustrated by the weather, and it is a shame that the Rose Bowl's first Test match this week has run into more than its fair share of rain.
I must say I love the Rose Bowl and have always enjoyed going there. They have spent a lot of money on the ground but it has been used to produce a terrific venue which is a credit to Hampshire and to their chairman, Rod Bransgrove. And from a player's point of view, you cannot fault it, what with the excellent practice facilities and terrific changing rooms. I do realise that not everyone will welcome the fact that there are now nine Test match venues spread across England and Wales. And I appreciate it can be difficult for the ECB to decide who gets what games and when.
As far as I'm concerned, though, the process should be fairly simple and certainly not come down to any kind of bidding war. I would give Lord's one Test every single series – so two a summer in effect – because it is the home of cricket and then allocate the other matches on a rota system with every ground taking their turn.
6. I'm a class act at interviewing as Ernie's school eye director of sport
Apart from the experiences, both good and scary, already mentioned, I chalked up another first this week – and that was through being asked to sit on an interview panel at Ernie's school, Ratcliffe College.
They are looking to fill the post of acting director of sport. Now I reckon I'm a tougher interviewee than interviewer but candidates for the Ratcliffe job must have found the atmosphere quite intense because there were seven of us on the panel with plenty of awkward questions being fired.
And our verdict? It's pending, as they say with the Decision Review System (or at least they do when India are not playing).
From my point of view, though, being on the panel was interesting – and not entirely different, I suppose, to what I found myself doing later the same day when I returned to Grace Road.
It may be only June, and the season may be less than halfway through, but we've already started discussions at Leicester about our squad for next year. Talking about the futures of people who are your friends and your team-mates is perhaps the trickiest part of the captain's job, but you have to accept it goes with the territory.
The way I rationalise it is by reminding myself that I have to make decisions based on cricketing matters while leaving financial affairs to those responsible for money matters.
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