The voting for tomorrow's star


WHEN I returned home from the Lord's Test the voting slip for the Cricket Writers' Club Young Cricketer of the Year was waiting for me so that I could make my annual attempt to pick tomorrow's star.

It took no more than a minute to fill in the name of Kyle Hogg, the lad I fancy to step into the shoes that must be vacated soon by Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick.

I saw him bowl superbly in a one-day game at Leicester early this season. I hear good reports of him all the time and he is already chosen as a likely visitor to the Academy at Adelaide this winter. There is even a suggestion that he might go with the full Test squad to Australia.

Take it easy, Mr. Graveney. Don't you and the other selectors get carried away. This lad has a long career ahead of him and proper training under the watchful eye of Rodney Marsh will be a better preparation than a hectic battle against the Australians. (By the way, we cricket writers seem to be pretty good at choosing tomorrow's men. Most of the young cricketers we have chosen since 1950 - including the last ten - have gone on to play for England.)

Hogg is the grandson of Sonny Ramadhin and the son of Willie Hogg a fastish bowler for Lancashire and Warwickshire in the 1980s. He is 19 in his slim body; 30 years old in his head and, between the two, capable of outwitting most batsmen.

Still, who is looking five years down the line? Enough young bowlers have had their bodies broken on the perpetual wheel of championship cricket. Promising in their teens. Trying to bowl three successive overs in league cricket when they are 22. Literally. I met one a few years ago who was built like a tower block and who should have been a formidable paceman. Instead he was a cripple.

Backing Hogg to play for England, even to get to the Academy or being sought out by Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, for a chat is a long odds gamble.

A few days later I ran into Graham Dilley, England fast bowler of the previous generation, now their bowling coach. We discussed Simon Jones, who played a part in the defeat of India at Lord's. "Seriously fast," said Dilley.

"A bit raw," I suggested. "Can you sort him out?"

Dilley's slow grin spread across his face. To be a fast bowler is to have a sense of humour. You develop a liking for irony at an early age. "Can he sort himself out?" he murmured.

"You can if anyone can," I insisted. "You ran in slow and put in all you had in the last stride. What can you tell him?"

"That when you bowl that way you become very close friends with your surgeon." The slow grin became fixed, the eyes searched back through the memory to identify the moment Dilley acquired that piece of knowledge.

So far young Hogg has avoided injury even though at 6ft 4in and 12st he sounds a likely candidate for a back twinge or two before he is 20. Fast bowling is a dangerous profession. Let's hope there is no need for the lad with the right genes, the promising background and two levels of advice from father and grandfather to find out for himself.

Mike Watkinson, the Lancashire coach, is treating Hogg like a precious jewel. He has left him out of the team for prolonged rests and, even though the England and Wales Cricket Board rules have a loophole which allows young bowlers in the championship to bowl more than the four-over spells that other teenagers are allowed, Watkinson has kept an eye on every Hogg ball.

"He has a natural, easily repeatable action," says Watkinson, who has protested at the number of times Hogg has played in Under-19 Tests, England one-dayers and the World Cup. "He'll learn more with us," he promises. The injury lesson was driven home this week by a report from Dr. John Orchard, a sports medicine specialist.

Fast bowlers are, Dr. Orchard says, more likely to be injured than Rugby players. They are more vulnerable when their side bats first which means the fast bowler has to use the new ball after only ten minutes' warm-up. He reckons there is an overall injury rate of eight per cent.

I didn't know you could apply percentage mathematics to fast bowling injuries. Just common sense. "Don't rank me with those fast fellas," said Neil Foster, a considerable England new ball bowler 15 years ago. "I don't run 20 yards, tear myself to pieces and expect to end up like a wasted bit of meat." (He did, by the way, retiring two days after playing in his final Test, aged only 31.)

It does not have to be this way for the quicks. Michael Holding, notoriously fit and always ready, once told me he was injury-free because the West Indies physio Dennis Waight would push him out on to the ground to warm up before an innings started no matter how hard he protested he was ready to rumble.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to work out why fast bowlers get hurt. They are usually heavyweights, they run from somewhere near the sightscreen and then hurl the ball like a javelin 20 yards towards the batsman. Get it right and you may be the hero of your side. Get it wrong and, as Dilley puts it, you may have to arrange another meeting with your best friend the surgeon. Dr. Orchard needs to work harder on his chosen subject but he is travelling down the right line.

His deep piece of investigation also concludes that the harder a fast bowler works, or the more overs he bowls, the more likely he is to be injured.

I trust Dr. Orchard did not sit up all night before he came to this conclusion and I expect that shortly he will add that the further a lorry driver travels the more likely he is to have an accident and the higher a mountaineer climbs the further he will fall.

However, this report is worthwhile if it opens the eyes of ICC to the possibility of improving grounds so that accidents are a rarity.

For instance, when the Australian Board learnt of the number of players being injured by sliding into the boundary fence, they moved the ropes infield and fewer injuries resulted. You might remember Paul Adams, the South African spinner with the strange action, broke a finger trying to stop a four at Cape Town on the last England tour.

As for fast bowlers there seems to be no way of saving them from serious injury. Dr. Orchard lists 1,160 injuries to pacemen in six seasons compared with 302 to batsmen, 131 for spin bowlers and 25 to wicket-keepers.

What is an injury? When you read about fast bowlers with injury problems you no doubt think, like me, about Dennis Lillee or Ian Botham undergoing huge operations on their backs, Bob Willis and Martin McCague being sent home with knee trouble, Caddick breaking down with an intercostal muscle strain and Gough with a knee problem that may end his career despite two operations.

But there are other, almost comical, injuries. Derek Pringle, medium pace bowler turned readable cricket correspondent, once hurt himself stretching after he finished writing a letter. (Why he turned to writing full time is beyond me. Even Dr. Orchard would recognise that Pringle is likely to hurt himself again in the same way.)

There is also the odd case of the much-injured Peter Martin of England and Lancashire. Martin, who once bowled Brian Lara between bat and pad with as good an inswinger as any bowler could produce, has been injured often enough to give Dr.Orchard yet another statistic.

The truth is that he was never hurt by bowling. Once he broke a finger in the nets while batting and shortly afterwards dislocated and broke a thumb at fielding practise. A whole season out and a major setback to his career through sheer bad luck.

Young Hogg will need good fortune if he is to avoid serious injury but I trust he will make it right to the top. As an old tabloid man I like the idea of Kyle Hogg and Matthew Hoggard opening the bowling together. Just imagine the headlines.

Flying Hoggs! Twin Hoggs! Hogg Roast! I can't wait.