Forget Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee, for Henry Cowen the summer of 2002 was all about the honest yeomanry of Matthew Hoggard.
There have always been different types of cricket fans. We like different forms of the game, different parts of the game, we’re drawn towards different players. As much as I love a wristy stylist who makes it look effortless, I favour an honest trier: someone for whom the game looks a challenge. I’ve always been curious as to why this is and I think the reason might stem from the first Test match I watched live.
It was 2002, the football World Cup in Japan and South Korea had just started, the sun was out and – most importantly – the half-term holidays had just begun. It was a good time. I remember finishing early on the Friday, my school had put on some horrific Richard Curtis-type event to celebrate the fact it was the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. We had to dress as great Britons – I chose David Beckham. A shallow move on my part but an indicator that even then my fancy dress inspiration depended most on what clothes I already owned. I remember seeing my mum and her brilliant friend Carol doubled over in hysterics, to the extent they almost had to leave the school hall, because they couldn’t take the tawdry tweeness of the whole school singing All You Need Is Love. I was proud of them but happy to get away from the embarrassment of them making a scene.
The next day – with my mum probably still laughing – my dad, my brother and I drove up the Pershore Road towards Edgbaston. Having already been buoyed by Matt Holland, captain of my beloved and beleaguered Ipswich Town, scoring for Ireland against Cameroon, I should have realised it wasn’t the kind of day you get to enjoy very often in your childhood. I mean, Matt Holland, at the World Cup!
The drive was one we used to take to head to Boundary Sports, the go-to cricket shop in the West Midlands. Trips there, with the promise of picking up any number of bats, were exciting enough but actually going to Edgbaston to watch England in a Test match? Excited doesn’t even begin to cover it. It’s a sad fact of life that the sense of awe you feel upon first entering a sporting arena is a once-in-a-lifetime thing: you’ll never again be so amazed by the size, by the chatter, by the expectation. We sat in the RES Wyatt Stand, much harder to see side-on, but it hardly mattered.
Sri Lanka were touring and England were on top. The visitors had been dismissed cheaply in the first innings and, in reply, Trescothick had scored abig hundred – which just seemed to be what happened as a matter of course. Things were set up nicely for the Saturday morning crowd: 401-5 with Thorpe and Flintoff ready to entertain. It wasn’t to be, of course, Flintoff went earlyish and Alex Tudor, Ashley Giles and Andrew Caddick followed soon after. Muralitharan was doing what only he could do, despite a shoulder injury, and I would have been very disappointed.
Out came Matthew Hoggard. I knew little of him, but I knew he wasn’t very good at batting. In truth, those aliens watching cricket for the first time that we often muse about in cricket circles would have nudged each other and said: ‘He’s not up to much, is he?’ It’s the walk that gives him away. It’s all lollop and no purpose, at the same time reluctant and dutiful. Thorpe was only on 61 – I wrongly remember him being much nearer his hundred – when he was joined by Hoggy. Work to be done.
What’s interesting is that, from a spectator’s point of view, this must have been a tad dry. Hoggy was good only for nose-to-the-ground blocks and while he played his card as well as ever, it’s hard to believe it would have been as engrossing as I remember. The duo scored 92 runs in 30 overs, it’s not pedestrian by any means but our man ended up unbeaten on 12, from 91 balls. Crucially, though, his efforts allowed Thorpe to reach his hundred. With his Chase bat wedged next to his Chase pad, everything unnatural and uncomfortable, Hoggard didn’t let anything through. The team needed more runs, they always do, but the depth of his effort was down to the fact he wanted his mate to get through to a hundred. That doesn’t happen in other sports and it meant something.
It was, luckily for me, a very good time to start caring about cricket and the fortunes of the England team. The first Test I’d seen on TV was that classic victory over the West Indies two years previously at Lord’s – just imagine if the terrified No.11 had come out to hit the winning runs on that day, we’d have moved from admiration to full-blown love – and with tours taking place on Sky, I was oblivious to England doing anything other than winning at home.
Later that summer England would play India. We would see Simon Jones’ debut, Steve Harmison’s debut, Rahul Dravid’s excellence and that off-break by Michael Vaughan. There was the peculiarity of young Parthiv Patel, so young at 17 that technically he should have had written permission from his mum in order to not wear a helmet, there was the ‘f***ing three!’ brilliance from Nass in the ODIs and that outlying Ajit Agarkar ton at Lord’s. England’s leading wicket-taker in the Tests was my man Hoggy, not that anybody particularly realised.
If we accept the admittedly unproven assertion that your first Test experience shapes your views on the game, then it’s entertaining to imagine who and what has inspired what and why in cricket fans across the country. Is there a family home with a small shrine to Jon Lewis because they saw him bowl Michael Vandort in the opening overs of the 2006 Test at Trent Bridge? Might Usman Afzaal’s enthusiastically celebrated dead-rubber half-century at the Oval in 2001 have won him some lifelong fans? And what repercussions – a question I often ask myself – did Rob Key’s 221 at Lord’s have on wider British society?
Fortunately for me, I backed a horse who went on to become one of England’s finest bowlers. He has more wickets than any of the other fab four from ’05, and he’s the highest seamer on the list of English wicket-takers behind the three deadly duos of Anderson/ Broad, Botham/Willis and Trueman/Statham.
Hoggard would go on to win Man of the Match at Edgbaston – his first in Tests – but it wasn’t for his efforts with the bat. Indeed his batting efforts had been eclipsed in the media by the death of Hansie Cronje, something which meant nothing to me. And given that the next day saw Sven-Göran Eriksson’s England take on Sweden in their World Cup opener in Saitama, it’s likely the back pages belonged to football and football alone. Such is life.
With Sri Lanka two wickets down on the Saturday evening we had left sun-beaten and happy. It had been as good as I wanted it to be. The next morning, befitting of a child who knew nothing of money, I begged my dad to let us return to Edgbaston to see day four: he gave in. Minus my brother, in bed recovering from sunstroke, it was just me and my old man. We sat in the Eric Hollies Stand. England won. Hoggard took five.