Friday, 10 November 2006

Can Hoggard thrive down under?

Matthew Hoggard won’t have fond memories of Australia. When he toured in 2002/03, Hoggard’s inability to swing the old ball meant he was easy meat for Australia’s batsmen; he claimed just one wicket in the two Tests he played while the Ashes were live. He took five wickets in England’s consolation victory at Sydney, but Australians remained unconvinced by his ability. 16 wickets at 30 in the epic 2005 series went some way to changing the perception. But, to truly get the credit his 222 Test wickets merit, Hoggard will have to do as well as he did in 2005 this winter.

Crucially, Yorkshire’s simple soul is a vastly improved bowler than in 2002. His consistency has improved many times; he has now got out almost all of the world’s top players. But the most crucial difference is Hoggard now seems capable of reverse-swinging the ball, as he proved by taking 6-57 on a docile Indian track in March.

However, his last three Tests against Pakistan yielded just five wickets, amidst whispers England’s Mr Consistent was no longer. But he is not yet 30 and, having enjoyed a few months of rest, should now be in a peak physical condition.

The first two Tests will tell us whether Hoggard really has gone off the boil, and whether he is able to extract reverse-swing from the Kookaburra ball. If the answer to one of those questions is in the negative, they may find themselves taking the ruthless decision to drop their king of new-ball swing.

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