Jan 2005 - Hogging The Limelight
11 Feb 2005
By: Neil Pickup
The first chapter in 2005's calendar of cricket encompassed historic series triumphs for Bangladesh in both Test and One-Day International cricket, the opening shots of another imperious VB series exhibition from the all-conquering Australians and a Test series between England and South Africa, tightly fought as ever, with recognition as the world's second Test nation as the victors' prize.
Whilst Enamul Haque's stellar performance on recall to the Bangladeshi side was the undoubted driving force behind their Test triumphs, Tatenda Taibu again led his side by example, Michael Clarke lit up Australia from the top of the ODI batting order, and Shahid Afridi brought something approaching consistency to his whirlwhind lower-order innings, the centrepiece series lay on a knife-edge under the Johannesburg sun on the final afternoon of the fourth Test at the New Wanderers stadium.
The series, in microcosm, had been about England's seam attack, spearheaded by Matthew Hoggard underneath the cloud of Steve Harmison's lack of form, Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones' injuries, as well as James Anderson's apparent inability to bowl two consecutive deliveries within a foot of one another, up against the wall of the South African batting - led by Jacques Kallis on mainly placid tracks, the visitors had a hard time of recording the twenty wickets required.
Marcus Trescothick's explosive 180 set the hosts up for a final-afternoon run chase; 325 runs inside 68 overs - possible, certainly, but the two central figures would have their parts to play if either side were to succeed. It was the Yorkshireman who drew first blood, trapping AB de Villiers in front, before the passage of play that contributed so decisively to the series outcome.
The hors d'oeuvre was rich in itself, Hoggard pitching the ball up to the left-handed Jacques Rudolph, before swinging it back in and through the Northerns batsman's gate to bring Kallis to the crease. One minute, one ball, one precision-pitched outswinger, one outside edge - and it was game on as Marcus Trescothick held on at first slip.
Yet it wasn't game over but merely game on, England's misfiring seam battery allowing Herschelle Gibbs and Boeta Dippenaar to lay the foundations of a recovery. The balance shifting, Vaughan turned back to the Leeds-born seamer, and his wish was granted. Boeta Dippenaar and Mark Boucher fell before tea as hearts quickened and the atmosphere inside the Bull Ring intensified.
Nicky Boje became the sixth victim, "Hoggy" taking the return catch himself, before Ashley Giles and Andrew Flintoff pitched in, deciding it was possibly a touch unfair to leave all the work to one man. With fifteen overs to play, it had come to a last stand - neither side knew the extent of the Centurion rains to come that would render this session crucial in the fate of the d'Oliveira trophy.
Dale Steyn edged to the boundary, Anderson grassed the concussed Graeme Smith at backward point, before Hoggard fittingly completed the job - finding the South African tailender Steyn's outside edge with 51 balls remaining of the day. Hoggard finished with figures of 7-61.
Between South Africa and England, personified in their key men Kallis and Hoggard, the series had balanced on the proverbial knife-edge for twenty days before the Johannesburg afternoon. Kallis, stood astride a middle order seemingly in a permanent state of flux, embodied and even carried the host nation's hopes. Often immovable and at times arguably overly anchored to the middle, the WP-Boland allrounder's wicket was invariably the prize the tourists held dearest.
Hoggard, equally, possessed every quality his side built its tour around. Never shirking the captain's call, always willing to run in with commitment never lacking and never less than dogged with bat in hand whether in his stock role at number nine, or on the night watch that has been his reward for unceasing application in recent years' practice.
Whilst the VB series group stage simmered under the Australian summer sun, the centrepoint of January's International cricket lay in the longer version of the game. Whilst Enamul Haque junior's eighteen wicket haul - spanning just two Tests - took the spotlight in Dhaka and Chittagong, the attentions of the Test world barely batted an eyelid as cricket's youngest brothers fought over the wooden spoon. South Africa and England sat at the forefront of the month's cricket, and Monday afternoon at the Wanderers stood tall in the resolution of the d'Oliveira Trophy.
This was what mattered - and Hoggard carried the day. With ten further wickets in January to add to his Bull Ring seven-for, Hoggard's penetration, alongside Flintoff - who took fifteen himself - was the centrepoint of England's first series triumph in South Africa since 1965. Following years under the shadow of Caddick, Gough and Harmison, there will be few in dressing rooms - English or otherwise - who would deny him his day in the sun.
Wher would Hoggard be going on the morning after the Fourth Test? "For Kentucky Fried Chicken. I am in need of some grease." With feet firmly planted on the ground, who's betting against further triumphs?
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