Peter Roebuck: Unsung seamers excel with craft and graft

Both Stuart Clark and Matthew Hoggard learnt their cricket in spit and sawdust leagues
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The Independent Online

Batsmen continue to dominate the Adelaide Test match and unless the willow-wielders forget themselves they will remain on top. Everyone has been glaring at a docile surface. Likewise the hunks of leather have copped the sort of flak experienced by Lancasters as they tried to drop their loads. Not much has been said about inaccuracy of the leather-flingers.

Only two bowlers in this match have responded to the flatness of the pitch by tightening their games. No surprise need be felt that Stuart Clark and Matthew Hoggard were the hardest bowlers to collar. Both have paid their dues. Both learnt their cricket in spit and sawdust leagues in which every run was valued. Backgrounds of this sort hold men in good stead when the odds are stacked against them.

Realising that the pitch was grudging, they ran in hard and did not flag until stumps. Nor did they send down anything wild. Instead they bowled with patience and precision, not trying too much, setting thoughtful fields and bowling to them. They kept a full length, to take advantage of any slight deviation and to deny the batsmen easy runs. They kept things tight until the second new ball was due and they could launch another attack.

Hoggard first drew attention to himself as a promising lad with Pudsey Congregationals in the Bradford League. Nothing fancy about that neck of the woods. Shoelaces are regarded as an affectation. Team-mates did not think much about slower balls or bumpers or reverse swing or drinks breaks or any of cricket's myriad contemporary creations. From the outset he was a down-to-earth cricketer, as honest as the day is long.

Here the old swinger toiled unstintingly and deserved his wickets. First he persuaded Matthew Hayden to probe at a widish delivery. Offerings of this sort cannot be viewed in isolation. Hoggard might follow a curly ball with a straight one. Further success came as Damien Martyn predictably, and negligently, pushed a well-pitched delivery to a well-placed gully. Nor did the Yorkshireman waste the second new ball, luring Ricky Ponting to his doom with a clever construction. He completed his day's work by removing Michael Hussey's off-stump. Then he plodded back to the pavilion and thought about his dogs.

Clark showed the same professionalism. Another traditional type, he took heed of the unchanging basics of his craft. Sending them down from his full height, keeping the seam upright, mixing up his deliveries, working within a well-conceived plan, he took three significant wickets and between times obliged batsmen to concentrate on survival.

Nor have these been the only seasoned campaigners to prove their worth. Kevin Pietersen and Ponting, the Australia captain, the new champions, may have stolen the headlines but they were superbly supported by two fine professionals in Paul Collingwood and Hussey. Cricket is not only an athletic endeavour. It is also a discipline and a craft.

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