‘England's ascent began a decade ago'

“The current England side has great depth. This is the result of a lot of hard work and commitment from all its players,” says Matthew Hoggard while doffing his hat to Andrew Strauss and his boys. By V. V. Subrahmanyam.

He was one of the architects of England's historic Ashes victory in 2005 and yet he remains one of the unsung heroes of English cricket. That is Matthew Hoggard, the man who took 248 wickets in 67 Tests between 2000 and 2008.

The yesteryear fast bowler, who had the uncanny ability to swing the ball away from the right-handers and also make it skid off the pitch, said that England's ascent to the No. 1 spot in Test cricket began about a decade ago.

“This is not the outcome of a year's planning or something like that. However, full credit should be given to coach Andy Flower, who is truly fantastic,” said Hoggard, who was in Hyderabad recently leading Leicestershire in the Champions League T20 qualifiers.

“And, I don't think the aggression of this England side is new to fans back home. The big difference is that, earlier, when one of the pace bowlers was injured, there was no quality back-up. It is not the case anymore. I am really happy that pace has been the strength of this England team, backed by the quality spin of (Graeme) Swann,” Hoggard explained.

“The current England side has great depth which we did not have back then. This is the result of a lot of hard work and commitment from all these players, led from the front by Andrew Strauss,” he said.

“The athleticism of the England cricketers because of their amazing fitness levels — none of them were overweight — perhaps made a big difference too,” Hoggard added.

On whether Stuart Broad can become an all-rounder in the mould of Andrew Flintoff, the former England fast bowler said, “When on song, Broad is a fantastic cricketer. He epitomises the aggressive spirit of the current England team.”

Hoggard also pointed out that the reason for India's debacle was injuries to many of its players. “The biggest blow was that of Zaheer Khan very early on the tour. This dented the attack,” he said.

“But watch out, India will try to hit hard when England tours the country later for the one-day series. India will be playing in familiar conditions and on favourable pitches. India in India is always a different proposition,” he cautioned.

Reflecting on England's No. 1 Test status, Hoggard said it would be a huge challenge for it to remain on top. “You have to play consistently good cricket over a longer period, and it is better you do that in all forms too,” he said. “Well, the biggest threat comes from South Africa and then India in India.”

Though he has played only 26 ODIs for England, taking 32 wickets, Hoggard clearly enjoys playing the T20 at the age of 34. “I feel a lot younger than I look. I felt like under-19 when I took that catch to dismiss Kieron Pollard in the T20 National Championship final back home,” he said with a broad smile. “Well, for any cricketer it is essential to stay fit, focussed and enjoy the game even while putting team's interest before personal stakes,” he remarked.

“Definitely, there is too much of cricket. But again, it's up to the cricketers to keep themselves fit by being choosy. And I don't think T20 is a threat to Test cricket. The two formats have their own space in world cricket,” Hoggard explained.

“It is a truly fantastic feeling to play in India. It has always been a challenge for any foreign cricketer. The passion in the stands and the huge popularity of the game makes cricket look different in this part of the world,” he said.