Matthew Hoggard: Where's the England call for this master tactician? Ignore the fact we're bottom of the league!
What I Learnt This Week
Saturday 04 June 2011
It may have escaped your attention, but when Jimmy Anderson was injured during the first Test in Cardiff, and people started speculating about who might take his place in the squad, my name was conspicuous by its absence.
Clearly, being bottom of the Championship's Second Division is counting against me – either that or it's the fact that I'm 34, grumpy and haven't played for England for three years.
When, you may ask, did I stop wondering whether I would slip back into the England Test team? Oh, about three years ago. And I don't think my new role as captain-cum-master tactician will make those selector chaps look my way now.
No, that asterisk next to M J Hoggard in the Leicestershire line-up is not a mistake. And, in case you had forgotten, it has been there for a season and a bit. A season and a bit during which the county have gained a slightly unlikely new skipper and said goodbye to a coach, chief executive and chairman. Life, never mind this column, is too short to go over all the reasons behind that period of upheaval so, as I say to the lads, onwards and upwards. Especially upwards, please.
I would like to say captaincy has changed me as a person, but it hasn't. What it did do, though – and is still doing – is to rejuvenate me as a cricketer. I guess when I left Yorkshire I could have gone pretty much anywhere, bowled my overs and then wandered down to fine leg to chew the cud. But I didn't want to do that. I wanted a challenge, and this is perfect.
I played under an England captain who, if you got hit for four, would kick the dirt or throw his cap on the floor. It's probably best not to mention his name, but Nasser had a hell of a lot of good points as well. I try to take on board what every captain has taught me but if I had to pick one above the others it would be Michael Vaughan.
When we beat Australia at home to win the Ashes in that amazing series of 2005, and the pressure was huge every single day, he still impressed on us the need to have fun – to enjoy our cricket. That is what I try to tell our lads and, happily, we've got a really good bunch at Leicester with no cliques and a nice mix of youth and experience.
But we're bottom and, at the moment, we are being found a little bit wanting. Still, at least we can park Championship cricket for a little while now and, hopefully, the switch to Twenty20 cricket will help us to get out of this rut.
2. I love my Twenty20 but they are going to kill the golden goose
As a bowler, you have to enjoy Twenty20 cricket – otherwise you would not only hate it but very quickly come to the conclusion that it was a game invented by batsmen to make them look like world-beaters while turning you into village idiots.
What you need to remember is that while you may go for 10 an over today, next time you could get four for spit. And the other thing we should never forget is that it often only takes one individual performance, with bat or ball, to win a T20 game. So if every member of the side comes up trumps just once, you can win 11 times and get through to the semi-finals – just so long as those performances are in different games, of course!
There is no doubt T20 has been good for domestic cricket. But I do think these days we are trying to kill the golden goose because we are playing 16 matches again this season and families just do not have the disposable income to spend on so many days out. That is why crowds were down for all but a few counties last season.
We just try to cram in too much cricket generally. Look at this spell we went through recently and try telling me it helps to produce international players or increases the chances of us putting on a spectacle for spectators: we played Derbyshire at our place Wednesday through to Saturday, on Sunday we played Warwickshire away in a 40-over game, then Durham at home on Monday. On the Tuesday we drove to The Oval for a Championship game that went Wednesday to Saturday, then we played Surrey in a one-day game the next day.
So in 12 days we were playing on 11 of them and travelling the other. There is a reason why there has to be three clear days between Test matches – and that is so players can rest and recuperate in order to give their best when they step back on to the field.
3. I'm up on the Lord's honours board – the dining room one
When it comes to Test cricket, there is no better place to play it than at Lord's. The England lads will have an extra spring in their step this week and visiting teams almost always raise their game there, as the Sri Lankans did yesterday, despite last weekend's hammering in Cardiff.
It's the history and the unique atmosphere – Lord's has its own buzz which you do not find anywhere else – that make it special. Oh, and the food of course. The food is sensational.
Not a lot of people know that I figure on the honours board at Lord's. No, not the one in the dressing room where five-fors and centuries are recorded, but the one in the dining room where the most favourable comments about the state of the cuisine are posted.
There is an even better reason, though, why the old ground is special for me. My son, Ernie, was born four years ago while I was playing a Test at Lord's. Sarah went into labour early and the first I knew about it, all the hard work had been done and we had a wonderful little boy. Incidentally, he was either going to be Ernie or Henry but Sarah said "we've got an Ernie" so I assume he must have come out with that tattooed on his bum. Ernie is just starting to get into cricket now and has two questions for me most days: are we playing at home and (if we are) will Charlie Fox be there? No good looking for C Fox in Playfair Cricket Annual, though – he's our two-legged mascot.
4. Surely it's bad luck when the Foxes' skipper runs over a fox...
Talking of foxes, I'm starting to think that I may not have helped to improve our current situation by accidentally running over one of the creatures the other evening.
I was returning from opera (yes, opera – thank you) in Nottingham when a fox decided to play chicken on a dual carriageway and came off second best with a Jaguar (my car, that is). Now, I didn't think too much of it at the time but we are the Foxes, of course, so it might not have been a great omen.
Anyway, when I got home the radiator was hanging off the car and, although the car firm did a great job in providing me with a courtesy vehicle, things have been going wrong ever since.
I missed the first 30 minutes of the Leicester v Saracens Premiership rugby union final at Twickenham after traffic was held up by a coach which caught fire on the M1. Then Leicester lost. Then we had to follow on against Kent at Tunbridge Wells. And then I smashed a ball into my foot while batting in the nets. All since the fox met his maker.
5. My advice to KP would be 'don't smash the ball into your own foot'
Like Kevin Pietersen, I refuse to accept that I have a problem when batting against left-arm spinners. Unlike KP, I am sometimes forced to deny that I have a problem batting against right-arm spinners, left-arm fast bowlers, right-arm fast bowlers...
Now, it is not for me to offer Kevin any advice about the art of batting. Except this. If I was him, I wouldn't hit the ball into your foot when trying to drive expansively in the nets. It bloody hurts.
6. Barcelona have got talent but Britain seems to be struggling
Football is not a game that does a lot for me – I've always been more of a rugby person, playing both union and league when I was younger. But even I know, having watched last week's final on the box, that Barcelona are something special.
And something else I know, from my telly watching, is that Britain's Got Talent really needs renaming as "Europe's Got Talent". And then it needs renaming again to "Not Any More It Hasn't".
It seemed to me that most of those appearing in the first semi-final were from anywhere but Britain. And it was car-crash television. Rubbish. But, as I told you, I'm getting older and I've always been grumpy.
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