Boycott coached Hoggard on forward defence
"If I was on 99 and at the other end and you got out, I'd hit you with my bat," Boycott had told his pupil.india Updated: Aug 30, 2005 19:25 IST
A few years ago, Matthew Hoggard, then the world's worst test batsman, found himself in a bizarre situation, padded up in Geoff Boycott's living room being taught how to play the forward defensive.
Boycott, a fellow Yorkshireman and former England opening batsman with an exemplary technique, had become so exasperated at watching Hoggard's cack-handed attempts at batting that he invited him over to provide him with some basic building blocks.
"If I was on 99 and at the other end and you got out, I'd hit you with my bat," Boycott had told his pupil.
Put it down to Boycott or Hoggard, but the swing bowler's efforts in his non-specialist subject have improved markedly since.
Born and bred a number 11, he would probably have batted at 12 in his early years if England could have got away with it.
Gradually, though, he turned into a competent nightwatchman, albeit one with no strokes to speak of, apart from that forward barn-door block learned from Boycott.
On Sunday evening at Trent Bridge, England's Ashes challenge hung by a thread.
Shane Warne and Brett Lee had torn out their entire specialist batting to reduce the hosts to 116 for seven in the fourth test. Thirteen more runs were needed for England to go 2-1 up in the series. Simon Jones, last man in, could barely walk because of an injured ankle.
The thatch-haired Hoggard trudged out to the middle to join Ashley Giles.
"Come on, let's you and me get it done," grinned Hoggard.
Was Giles happy to see Hoggard?
"Reasonably," said Giles later through a weak smile. But he feared the worst.
"All sorts of things go through your head: 'This can't be happening to us, we don't deserve this, we have played some great cricket'.
"I told Hoggy: 'It's reversing at about 95mph.' I thought it was best that he knew."
Hoggard, though, was happy to be out in the middle.
"It was very nervous in the dressing room. When Ashley went in, he was bricking it and I wasn't far behind him, but as soon as you stepped over the line it was almost surreal."
"Everything seemed to slow down, everything seemed calm. I was happy to be there, not watching on the balcony, it felt like it was in our own hands."
One thing was not slowing down, though.
Lee's delivery to dismiss Andrew Flintoff had cut back off the pitch and clipped the top of off stump before the all rounder could move a muscle. Flintoff's return to the pavilion seemed to spell disaster, even to coach Duncan Fletcher.
"When he went I was a bit doubtful," Fletcher conceded. "I thought: 'This could be a bit tricky.'"
Lee tried to get rid of Hoggard with an inswinger. Hoggard, perhaps not quite Boycott-esque, thrust his front foot down the wicket and the entire Australian team went up for lbw.
"There wasn't a lot of banter but Ricky Ponting asked me if I had hit it," recalled Hoggard.
"I said I thought I had but I didn't really have a clue. I have my eyes shut when Brett Lee bowls at that speed."
Moments later, Lee tried a yorker but overpitched. Down came the Hoggard pad again.
Then, for the first time anyone could remember, something strange happened. With a nano-second of thinking time, Hoggard decided to drive rather than block. Down came his bat and the ball sped to the extra cover boundary. Trent Bridge's 16,000 capacity crowd exploded in relief.
Moments later, Giles clipped the winning runs.
It was Hoggard's contribution, though, his eight runs and that one shot, which stayed in the memory.
"I have been called the world's most boring batsman so it was nice to score a few runs," he said. "Normally it takes me a session and a half to score eight."
Giles added: "I don't think Hoggy will hit a more important cover drive in his career."
England head for The Oval on September 8 needing just a draw to win the Ashes for the first time since 1986-87. If they succeed, Hoggard's boundary will probably find its place in cricket mythology.
No one seems to know where that unprecedented shot came from, Fletcher least of all. Hoggard, he said, had been a "genuine number 11" when he began.
"You tell players there will be a game when all the hard work is worth it," he said, in search of answers.
The shot came from deep within Hoggard. Perhaps it had been lying hidden for years, waiting for its moment. Probably its true origins can be traced back directly to a Yorkshire living room.
First Published: Aug 30, 2005 19:25 IST