The Hoggard saga

Published : Oct 24, 2009 00:00 IST

The paceman will only be 32 when next summer starts and he was Yorkshire's leading wicket-taker last season. Apparently he was invited to see the chief executive and the coach for a coffee and found he was no longer wanted. Surely there was a place for such a good servant. By Ted Corbett.

The row between Yorkshire and their England quick bowler Matthew Hoggard tells us plenty about the way the club is run, the difficulties in their relationship with their players and why they are no longer a major force in English cricket.

Of course there was a time when the county was cricket in these islands.

Their background support from powerful local leagues at city level in Bradford and Sheffield, York and Leeds, the strength of leagues that stretched across what they love to call the Broad Acres and, most important of all, the belief among the citizens that to be born in Yorkshire is to win the jackpot in the lottery of life, made their team unbeatable.

These factors enabled them to win 29 championships between 1873 and 1968; since they have had a solitary success in 2001. The last two seasons have been spent fighting relegation, their players rarely find England Test places and their main boast in the past couple of years has been that they still host a Test most years and that their membership flourishes. That last bit is evidence of hope over expectation; but, hey, that’s fans for you.

The county has given away what used to be their binding force. Once you could only play for the county if you were born there which gave the players a common identity, the accent that made me refer them as the County of Broad Vowels and that same steadfast belief that they were God’s chosen people.

Strong leadership, a willingness to cut off good players in their prime if there was a fear they might get too big for their boots — Yorkshiremen hate such extroverts — and the willingness of old players to teach the apprentices their tricks turned the side into a winning machine.

Jack Bannister, the old Warwickshire fast bowler, remembers a day when he went into bat for the second time, before lunch on the second day. He knew it was only a matter of minutes before Warwickshire lost by an innings yet he could hear sounds of dissent all around. “What’s he doing bowling? Don’t skipper know there’s a train in half an hour? We should have beaten this lot easily and yet here we are still messing about.”

They once scored 200 in less than two hours to win a championship, there was a steady supply of talent from the leagues and yet there were sometimes as many as a dozen former Yorkshire players — sacked after a trial lasting less than a summer — playing major roles with other counties. In 1938 at the Oval six Yorkshiremen played for England against Australia and, yes, England won while Len Hutton made 364.

It was a ruthless club. Ray Illingworth was sent on his way when he asked for a two-year contract — and soon he was England captain. Brian Close was sacked and went on playing for Somerset for another decade. Brian Bolus made his England debut soon after leaving Yorkshire for Notts.

Now, after years of trade union activity, battles by women’s organisations and new laws, there is no longer supposed to be such a split between man and boss. It always raises my hackles to hear “he has been a wonderful servant to this club”. Surely in the 21st century a man deserves more respect than to be classified as a servant. In Yorkshire the old ways still exist.

The Hoggard story began when he told one newspaper that he had been sacked. Apparently he was invited to see the chief executive and the coach for a coffee and found he was no longer wanted. Why not? He will only be 32 when next summer starts and he was Yorkshire’s leading wicket-taker last season. Surely there was a place for such a good servant.

Then it emerged that Hoggard and the club had been in negotiations all last season. I have heard since that his wage demands and his expectations of a three-year contract were optimistic and that he had been waiting for a better offer. Meanwhile a young hopeful Ajmal Shahzad had been targeted by half a dozen counties and Yorkshire wanted to keep Shahzad in the belief that he will develop into a Test bowler. His Pakistani roots ensure an audience in that mixed race county.

Eventually it was either Hoggard or Shahzad — and Shahzad’s 24 years seemed a better proposition than Hoggard’s 248 Test wickets. So with a touch of the old Yorkshire ruthlessness Hoggard was given his marching orders.

We don’t have to feel sorry for the lad who was regarded for a long time as being borderline international material. It is easy to misunderstand him. Michael Vaughan used to shout: “Cut out the magic balls, Hoggy. You are here to keep the runs down. Don’t get ahead of yourself.” But what do 248 Test wickets say about that judgement?

Darren Gough was another who used to laugh at the country boy who loved his dogs, his rambles on the moors near his home and his ambition to be a vet. “Eight A levels, heaven knows how many O-levels and daft!” Gough once said. I remember Nasser Hussain complaining about him being on the wrong side of square leg in a one-day international which cost England a wicket. “He’s a fast bowler — what else can we expect?” grinned Nasser.

So as you read this it is probable Hoggard will have his dogs out for a walk.

By next summer he will have a contract with another club and one with a few more shillings in the bank than Yorkshire. Leicestershire — where Illingworth found his second home — have already made an offer and there are still counties who still want his experience.

They say you can always tell a Yorkshireman but you can’t tell him anything. That may still be true but on a cricket field they still know more than the rest of us. Or they say they do.

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