Sunday, 2 January 2011

Hoggy: The not-so peculiar world of Matthew Hoggard

Someone told me that Matthew Hoggard's autobiography was one of the better entries into the genre, among a load of ghost-written stocking fillers that are stacked high post-Ashes series, like Fray Bentos pies in a Home Bargains.

No doubt we can soon expect Colly: My Autobiography and Belly: My Ashes Autobiography and Cooky: My Autobiography soon. Say what you want about KP, he gives good copy.

Recent cricket autobiogs I've read include Hussain's Playing With Fire – a typically gritty and rather stolid effort, but Nass doesn't mind sticking the boot in and dishing the dirt on some of the unlikely events under his captaincy - and Darren Gough's effort which, with all the will in the world, is what you'd expect.

Hoggy's effort, like his role in the England squad, is a little left-of-centre but it's not exactly Herschelle Gibbs or even Geoffrey Boycott.

The former Saffer's book is all sex, drugs and rock'n'roll; the latter tends to focus on Fiery's contempt for Mike Denness, among many many others. Suffice to say, Hoggy: WElcome to my World is hardly Mike Brearley either.

Hoggard comes across rather like his bowling always did. Honest, hard-working, with a touch of guile and oddity. Imagine what a cricket-playing sheepdog's autobiography might be like and you're on the right lines.

The swing bowler is, by his own admission, pretty daft but comes across as a good lad. The book promises that Hoggy is as mad as a box of frogs, but it's all of the "we put some shaving foam in Bumble's kit bag, he didn't have a clue, everyone fell about" variety. The back cover, featuring Hoggard looking like an idiot on an elephant, kind of says it all.

He's fairly circumspect on the dressing room disagreements, though he does have a dig at Peter Moores' focus of fitness above all else and is clearly ambivalent about Duncan Fletcher. He gives a good impression of Michael Vaughan's measured captaincy, though, and paints a familiar picture of Hussain as a prickly, if respected, character. His impressions of Strauss are predominantly of observation on Strauss's poshness and his "loud, booming voice".

Hoggard does give the impression of a huge gulf between the outlooks of test bowlers and batsmen, something akin to a caste system in cricket teams, and his criticism of trying to 'overthink' bowling and complaints over the fast bowler's lot seem spot on.

Hoggard's notion of a 'pisstaking coach' in dressing rooms also seems wise – witness the difference between a team enjoying each others' company during the current Ashes series and the miserable bastards that populated 90s squads. It's enough to make you wonder whether, under the daft hair and dafter banter, there's a very astute cricket brain – certainly Hoggard's bowling tended to be the most thoughtful of his England contemporaries.

Hoggy's supposed madness comes across in a number of basic pencil drawings and 'Hogfacts' - irrelevant miscellaneous factoids peppered throughout the book presented as footnotes, like a print version of pop-up intext adverts. An intro narrated by his dogs and sidelines from his wife and son, Ernie, also give the impression of a different kind of cricket book, but it's only really in the presentation that the book veers away from the traditional cricket autobiog rules.

Given Hoggard's fondness for silly voices, silly jokes and, well, silly everything it comes as quite a shock when he admits to almost breaking down while bowling in a Test in New Zealand – 'doing a Tres' as he puts it. Other tribulations include difficulty in conceiving and that peculiar sports brand of depression mixed with a crisis of confidence that afflicts cricketers in particular.

Hoggard is an engaging narrator, but 90 per cent of the anecdotes consist of the sanitised "Harmy blasted out the top order, then Gilo and Jonah weighed in with a couple, Freddie picked up a key wicket and I chipped in with a four-fer to wrap things up" variety. Further, chapters on the Hoggard exercise regime are hardly the stuff of wonder.

More serious a problem are the lack of details on the more interesting events that Hoggard's career covered. The Ashes stuffing of 2006/07, his dropping from the England team and his release from Yorkshire are barely mentioned.

There are tantalising glances of Hoggard's unique take on life, but they've either been excised from the book or they are simply that - the odd glances. It's a valuable reminder that what passes for 'mad' in the uncomplicated minds of many pro sportspeople - reading books, knowing things, actually having a sense of humour and the like - is actually nothing of the sort.

Throwaway spread on the hardest hitters in cricket and the like are diverting but hardly indicate the insanity we're led to expect by quotes from fellow cricketers. Neither is there much meat, beyond the few scraps we're thrown. Perhaps that's for another book in the future, when the dust has settles a little more.

I hope to see more from Hoggard on TMS and the like - he's a character with a lot more about him than anyone in the current Sky box - but, as a book, Hoggy rarely delves beneath the surface, beneath the hair, beneath the daftness.

It's a book that's neither particularly mad, nor by any means bad, but it's only a few steps removed from the quickfire My Autobiographies we can expect when Colly, Belly, Broady et al get back to Blighty.