English cricket’s unsung hero

Matthew Hoggard is one of the unsung heroes of English cricket.

The Leeds-born seamer,

who announced his retirement on Wednesday,

played a big part in England’s historic 2005 Ashes success and is joint-seventh on their all-time wicket-taking list with 248, but probably hasn’t got the public recognition he deserves.

Matthew Hoggard

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The time is right to quit – Hoggard

In that 2005 team, Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Simon Jones got most of the attention. They were the thoroughbreds, who could bowl at 90mph and produce unplayable deliveries.

But Hoggard was the workhorse that every good team needs. He would run in all day long, putting everything into every ball and generating late swing to cause the batsmen plenty of problems.

As a bowler, he could be described as boring, in that he didn’t go outside of his game plan too often, but boring can prove very, very effective and Hoggard took big wickets at key moments.

I first came across Hoggard on the county circuit before he played for England when he was making a name for himself as a young bowler at Yorkshire and putting in the hard yards by going to play for Orange Free State in South Africa in the winters.

England’s highest wicket-takers

1) Ian Botham – 383 wickets

2) James Anderson – 329

3) Bob Willis – 325

4) Fred Trueman – 307

5) Derek Underwood – 297

6) Brian Statham – 252

7=) Matthew Hoggard – 248

7=) Graeme Swann – 248

We actually talked about him at Surrey as someone we would be interested in signing, but as a proud Yorkshireman he was never going to leave his home county so early in his career.

Hoggard’s county form earned him a call-up to the England Test team for what proved to be a dramatic Test match against the West Indies at Lord’s in 2000.

I was captaining England at the time as Nasser Hussain was injured and I still have a vivid memory of a desperately nervous Hoggard waiting to bat as the match moved towards its climax on the evening of the third day.

He was sitting in the doorway of the Lord’s dressing room in the standard tail-ender’s pose, with his helmet and gloves on, resting his chin on his bat handle. But what was particularly alarming was that he was actually eating his batting gloves through the grille of his helmet!

I was out on a very tense balcony at the time, occasionally looking over my shoulder to see how our debutant number 11 was getting on and it certainly wasn’t the most reassuring sight.

Fortunately, Dominic Cork, Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick saw us over the line to clinch a two-wicket victory and Hoggard had to wait until 2005 to prove that he had the nerve to hit the winning runs in a Test match,

which he did with aplomb at Trent Bridge.

Matthew Hoggard  Darren Gough

On his debut in 2000, Hoggard (left) congratulates Darren Gough on one of his six wickets

After his debut, Hoggard was in and out of the England side for the next three years while he worked on his consistency. There was also a feeling at the time that top international bowlers needed to be able to hit 85mph, but he showed that if you could swing the ball late it didn’t matter.

He got in close to the stumps, moved the ball both ways, and bowled to hit the top of off stump to bring in the bowled or lbw options as well as finding the outside edge.

As a person, Hoggy could be viewed as mad and eccentric but he has a heart of gold. He likes to play the role of the village idiot at times – and his slumped shoulders and shaggy blond hair at times meant he could be mistaken for one – but he is actually a highly intelligent individual. He was a very good mathematician – his father was a maths teacher – and knew a lot more about the world than he let on.

There was no point trying to engage him in conversation in the mornings, because he was a grumpy so-and-so, but that would change as soon as he stepped out onto the cricket field. He was a true 100 per center who put everything into every delivery.

Matthew Hoggard

Hoggard leaves a struggling Leicestershire side who are rooted to the bottom of Division Two

Hoggard had a great career at Yorkshire and it was a crying shame that he was released by the county in slightly acrimonious circumstances in 2009 before dropping down a division to play for Leicestershire.

Moving from one of the biggest and best-supported sides in county cricket to one of a lower-profile could be viewed as a step down and it is a shame that his career rather tailed off before he decided to call it a day.

Like any player who retires from the game Hoggard’s biggest challenge now will be finding a way to fill the void left by the absence of cricket. He is an emotional man and there will inevitably be times when he will miss the buzz and camaraderie that sport can offer.

Whether he chooses to go into coaching, media work or pursues something outside of the game, I really hope he can find something that makes him feel fulfilled.

English cricket’s unsung hero deserves nothing less.

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