Spotlight falls on Hoggard as England stick with tried and tested team

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The Independent Online

The ability of England's bowling attack to exploit any set of conditions placed in front of them during the first three Test matches is the principal reason why Michael Vaughan's side have been combative throughout this enthralling series. The only conditions that are yet to prevail are those that assist a conventional swing bowler.

Matthew Hoggard's swing bowling has had little impact on the series but Trent Bridge is a ground that traditionally helps his style of bowling. Hoggard was named yesterday in an unchanged squad for the fourth Test, which starts on Thursday, and the next week should offer him the chance to play his part in England's bid to regain the Ashes.

During the winter tour of South Africa Hoggard showed that he can win matches when the ball swings. On an unforgettable final day at The Wanderers in Johannesburg he took his side to a dramatic victory with career best figures of 7 for 61. On this occasion he was outstanding, bowling one of the finest opening spells I have seen.

But his form since then has been far less convincing. Hoggard took 14 wickets in two Tests against Bangladesh but his figures flattered him. His bowling against Australia has been slightly better but he has bowled only 56 overs in three Test matches.

This workload is likely to increase in Nottingham and how Hoggard reacts could have a significant influence on the destination of the Ashes.

"We are heading for an unprecedented situation when the same side is selected for all five Tests," said David Graveney, the chairman of the selectors. "We spent most of our meeting talking about how we have played during the last two Test matches, which have been outstanding.

"Myself and Geoff Miller [a fellow selector] have seen a few games at Trent Bridge this year and it does suit conventional swing. Reverse swing does happen as the game goes on, but the pitch is not quite as abrasive as that used at Old Trafford.

"But how we play is the most important thing. In the last two Test matches we have dominated the first day, and it will be interesting to see how each side reacts after having a week away.

"We are playing good cricket at present and there is a positive vibe about the team, which I am sure the players will be keen to take into the next match."

England's players, to the annoyance of a couple of myopic counties, have spent the last week recuperating from the exhausting experience of playing back-to-back Test matches while Australia's have been travelling the length of the country. Following the draw at Old Trafford the tourists visited Edinburgh to play a one-day game against Scotland before flying to Heathrow and driving up to Northampton for a two-day match over the weekend.

It is difficult to comprehend the mentality of the county chairmen who have complained about Andrew Flintoff and Vaughan not being made available for the C&G semi-finals that took place on Saturday. The C&G Trophy is an important domestic competition, but it would be ludicrous for England to risk injury to two of their most influential figures when the Ashes are so delicately poised.

Yet continuity needs to be shown and, unless the Ashes are lost at Nottingham, it would be ridiculous for Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, to allow his players to take part in a Vaughan benefit match that is scheduled to take place two days after the fourth Test finishes.

Graham Thorpe announced yesterday that he would retire from all cricket at the end of the summer. Thorpe, who scored 6,744 runs in 100 Test appearances for England, had already quit international cricket following the selectors' decision to pick Kevin Pietersen ahead of him in the first Ashes Test at Lord's.

Thorpe will fulfil an obligation to play and coach in Sydney during the winter, and is available to play for New South Wales if the state side wish.

"It is an emotional moment," the 36-year-old said. "There will be many things I will miss, but I feel comfortable that this is the right decision.

"In purely physical terms, I don't want to go through another season of taking painkillers and having injections in my back. There is no point carrying on just for the sake of it. I just haven't got that much left in the tank."

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