Player of the Day: Lack of ego helps swing king have a field day

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Bowlers hate the toss. Mostrefuse to watch it. On days when the pitch is dry, hard and devoid of grass, and the sun is hot, some fast bowlers have been known to kneel by their changing pos-ition praying to a mightier force while the coin is in the air. If the captain calls correctly, a day of relaxation beckons. If not, a day of toil. Which would you prefer?

Matthew Hoggard has been around too long to allow such uncontrollable factors to influence his mindset, and he would have reacted philosophically to the news that Vaughan had lost his third consecutive toss of the tour. Deep down he would have realised that if the pitch was to offer him any assistance, it would have been there and then in the opening two hours of the match.

The pitch offered Hoggard assistance and though it was only minimal, he exploited it magnificently to reduce Sri Lanka to 42 for 5. The ego of a fast bowler and his desire to impose himself on an opponent can result in the ball being hammered in halfway down the pitch. It looks good on TV and from the sidelines when the batsmen are bobbing and weaving out of the way of a barrage of short deliveries but often it results in the new ball being wasted.

England, and in particular Hoggard, did not play with their egos yesterday morning, they used their brains. From the first ball of the day, bowled by Ryan Sidebottom, they pitched the shiny red cherry up to give it every chance of swinging and made the batsmen play.

Careless strokes from Sanath Jayasuriya and Michael Vandort handed England the initiative, but it was high-quality swing bowling that accounted for the next three. Swing bowlers do not need the ball to move a great deal in the air to cause doubt in a batsman's mind and Hoggard's bowling, though a tad faster, brought back memories of Terry Alderman at his best. Getting in close to the stumps, the 30-year-old bowled an immaculate line to both left- and right-handers.

When Sri Lanka's left-handers Jayasuriya, Vandort and Kumar Sangakkara, enjoying a supreme run of form left the ball, they would have feared the tinkle of it clipping off stump. The quand-ary makes left-handers play at deliveries they should leave alone. Hoggard's inswing ensured the inside edge of the bat was struck as often as the middle.

Yet it was the outside edge of Mahela Jayawardene's bat that gave England the belief that the day might be theirs. The Sri Lankan captain never looked settled against Hoggard. He wanted to leave the ball alone and let it pass harmlessly through to the keeper, Matt Prior, but it was always aimed too close to his off stump and eventually the right-hander succumbed, nibbling at the perfect outswinger. Chamara Silva fell in similar fashion, caught behind, although the ball that feathered the edge of his bat pitched on off-stump and left him. Donald Bradman would have done well to keep it out.

It was the wicket of Jehan Mubarak that highlightedHoggard's pedigree, proving beyond doubt that he is far more than a one-trick pony. The left-handed Mubarak arrived at the crease expecting a sequence ofinswingers to be sent his way but the fifth ball he faced dartedfrom leg to off, deceiving him completely. Prior did the rest.

With 4 for 21 in 10 overs, and Sri Lanka in disarray, Hoggard took a well-deserved rest. The spell took his tally of wickets on the subcontinent, a region where bowlers of his style are meant to struggle, to 47, costing him 26 runs apiece. Not bad for a day that started with the worst possible call from the balcony: "Strap 'em on Hoggy, we're fielding."