Matthew Hoggard – Mad as a Box of Frogs

Some say literary experimentation has never been bettered since Thomas Sterne included sermons, essays and legal documents in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman where he also explored the limits of typography and print design  – not to mention the limit’s of a reader’s patience.

Others champion the claims of James Joyce and his master piece, Finnegans Wake with its ‘idiosyncratic language, consisting of a mixture of standard English lexical items and neologistic multilingual puns and portmanteau words, which many critics believe attempts to recreate the experience of sleep and dreams’ (thanks Wiki)  but which notably shuns an apostrophe in the title.

Third Man, however, is convinced that the Best in Class must go to Welcome to My World by Matthew Hoggard, published by Harper Sport.

For decades, ghosted or not, the literary works of cricketers have always begun with a facile foreword penned by a giant of the game, from W.G. Grace, to Lord Hawke, to Plum Warner, to anyone worth sucking up to deferring to.

Hoggard sets the tone for experimentation and eccentricity by including a Paw-word written by his dogs Billy the Dobberman and Molly the Border Collie.

There is a chapter of puzzles for any reader not fully engrossed by page 38, better than usual photograph captions (yes Hoggy, Third Man went to the pictures first just as you predicted), a diagram of all two Duncan Fletcher facial expressions, contributions by his sons, a dramatization of a conversation with the England nutritionist, and, at last, the truth about which England player used the garden bushes at No 10 as a toilet at their Ashes reception in 2005.

A Favourite Photgraph and Caption that captures the tone, illustrates that Northern humour and looks good to English eyes.

There’s  a revealing dig at Captain Hussain who he lists with four others as the angriest batsmen he’s known. ‘Once gave me a bollocking for not getting him a drink out of the fridge in Pakistan.  He was sitting right next to the fridge, I was at the other side of the room.’

Acknowledgements go to the Rupali curry house, Wok This way and Webster’s Fish and Chips; oh, and there’s an Epihog.  

For the technically minded, there’s an interesting diagram of the Hoggard family garden in which the hero learnt to bowl.  The position of the greenhouse could explain the origins of his ‘cross action’ (where the front left foot lands to the right of the back left foot). England supporters should be thankful for this to his dad who sited the greenhouse. The angle left for a bowler’s run up could therefore have been responsible for the downfall of many an opposition left hander and even for the Ashes triumph.

After a great deal of this kind of sweetness, the ending was tinged with bitterness – and that was just from his treatment by the new England set up.  The book ends before Yorkshire added to his sense of grievance. 

It needs to be remembered, though, that Hoggard is sixth in the list of England’s leading wicket takers four behind Statham in three fewer tests, and ninth in the list of best strike rates for England bowlers taking more than 100 wickets, nearly a ball ahead of I.T.Bothham.

He was also the ninth bowler to take a hat-trick for England and he finished with Test bowling figures of 67 matches, 13,909 balls, 7,564 runs, 248 wickets, economy rate 3.26, strike rate 56.0 with 13 four-fers, 7 five-fers and one 10 wicket match haul.  His best bowling in an innings was 7 – 61 against South Africa and in that match he took 12 for 205.

It is time to reappraise his worth.

Andrew Flintoff sums it up on the dust cover of the hardback, “He’s mad as a box of frogs.”  But that’s also what they said about Sterne and Joyce.

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