Last Of The Heavy Horses : The Return Of Matthew Hoggard

Leicestershire v Glamorgan, YB40, Grace Road, 19th June 2013

Leicestershire v Essex, LVCC, Grace Road, 22nd June 2013

Always a mistake to make too many predictions.  On the credit side of the ledger, my tip that Lancashire would soon overtake Northants is looking an increasingly safe bet, after they beat them in two days at Old Trafford this week.  On the debit side, no sooner had I suggested that “suspicions are growing that we will not see Hoggard in a Leicestershire shirt again” than, having posted a picture of his “manky toenail” on Twitter to reassure us that his was not an injury of convenience, he once again donned the hallowed no. 77 shirt to turn out for us in the Championship.

Before that, we had a YB40 match, scheduled for 1.45 on a Wednesday afternoon, which was about as well attended as you might expect.  We lost (Cobb didn’t fire for quite long enough, despite hitting 6 fours in his 35), but there were encouraging signs in the field that the side are coming together under his Captaincy in time to make a decent showing in the T20.  I don’t personally care a great deal about that competition, but many do and the cash would certainly come in handy.

We almost had an Incident, by the way,when Rob Taylor must have been tempted to Mankad the Glamorgan no. 24, who was – as they say in clerical circles – taking the piss with his backing-up, but – perhaps due to his background with Market Harborough C.C. – he opted to take the gentlemanly option of issuing a gentle warning instead.

Backing Up

Nathan Buck, who’d looked somewhere near his best against Glamorgan, was left out for the Championship match against Essex, as was Cobb.  Cobb seems to have given up on four day cricket altogether, but why Buck wasn’t playing is mysterious (he can hardly need rotation, given that he’s only been back for two or three games).  Hoggard, though, had returned and gave us a glimpse of what might have been if he’d been available in the damp and swinging early season (as opposed to the damp mid-season).

On the Saturday (when, as usual, the crowd was sparse, in spite of the presence of a charabanc party of Essex pensioners) I caught the tail-end of the Leicestershire innings.  I noted, in passing, that Mike Thornley seems to have begun to model himself on Jonathan Trott.  Not so much (yet) in terms of the number of runs he scores as the routine of obsessively scratching away at his mark between each delivery.  Bowler David Masters seemed suspicious about this, or perhaps had caught some variant on the affliction and spent an inordinate amount of time tramping down his footholds, to the puzzlement of the Umpire.

Masters and Thornely

The effect of Hoggard’s return may be gauged by a look at this field (it’s a long time since we saw eight men close to the bat when Leicestershire are bowling).

Attacking field

Hoggard claimed 4-12 to reduce Essex to 28-4 and the possibility of a consecutive Essex collapse, or at least a rare first innings lead for Leicestershire loomed, if not large.  But, when the first over from first-change Thakor went for 14 to relieve the pressure and the fourth interruption of the day for rain or bad light set in, the moment rather passed and Essex finished the day on 196-6.

Even aside from the quality of his bowling, Hoggard did seem a man apart and a law unto himself.  He is visibly from another generation, and, in his Afrika Corps style cap made the rest of the side, in their matching peaked not-s0-baggy greens, look like a side of unusually talented schoolboys.  Factually, at 36, he is at least eight years older than all but Niall O’Brien and 18 years older than Shiv Thakor, though age does not appear to have blunted his appetite for bowling (here he is appealing to Captain Boyce – who was hardly in a position to refuse – for a twelfth consecutive over).

One more?

It is tempting to see Hoggard as the last of his breed (the steam-powered trains, perhaps, or the heavy horses) if it were not for the fact that, after the second string Aussies Hogan and Copeland, the leading wicket-takers this season in Division 2 are Alan Richardson (38), David  Masters (35) and Glen Chapple (39).  This may suggest that modern training methods are prolonging the active life of older players or that they are ensuring that the younger bowlers are permanently crocked. Or it may simply confirm my suspicion that there is currently a dearth of good young English pace bowlers and that those that there are are soon filched by the bigger clubs.

It isn’t too hard to imagine Hoggard keeping going for a few years yet, and, perhaps, not easy to imagine what else he would want to do (personally I rather fancy him presenting an earthier version of Springwatch opposite Kate Humble), but I suspect that, for one reason or another, we won’t be seeing him at Leicestershire after the end of this season.  I felt rather moved to have seen him, on this otherwise chilly, spasmodic and, in the wider scheme of things, irrelevant day, once again ploughing his familiar furrow …

… back to the mark …

Back to the mark

… and in to bowl …

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