Swing time for Hoggard and the All Stars
England star keen to leave Sixes batting duties to his big-hitting teammates
Englishman Matthew Hoggard's batting averages in both test and one-day internationals are firmly located in the bottom single digits, and would hardly bother a statistician. But then again, the swing specialist is not in Hong Kong for his batting.
And he made it a point to stress his batting frailties on the eve of the Hong Kong Sixes, and in the process putting the onus on his All Stars teammates who are more known for their exploits with the willow - like Sanath Jayasuriya, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Justin Langer, Stephen Fleming, Tyron Henderson and even Chaminda Vaas.
'I've got no intention of batting because we have so many great batsmen. If I have to go in, then we are in trouble,' said Hoggard. 'But the ground is small enough and you might see me hit a couple of sixes.'
The faithful would rather prefer to see him swing the ball around, as he did so effectively in 2005 when England defeated Australia to win the Ashes. His batting, where he averages 7.27 in tests (67) and 4.25 in ODIs (26), is more of the quality of grim nightwatchman than swashbuckling hero.
Hoggard, however, believes bowlers will come in for some harsh treatment over the next two days at the Kowloon Cricket Club, although perhaps someone should remind him that when Wasim Akram turned up one year, he turned the Sixes into his personal shooting gallery.
'Don't be a bowler,' Hoggard replied when asked what he knew about Sixes. 'Obviously, there are a lot of balls that are going to be disappearing into the crowd, but it's great for the spectators and it's a fantastic way to help make cricket popular.'
The 31-year-old played the last of his 67 tests against New Zealand this year in Hamilton when New Zealand won by 189 runs and Hoggard finished with the miserable figures of one for 189. The England selectors overlooked him for the home series against South Africa this summer and also for the winter tour of India starting later this month.
But Hoggard refuses to give up hope and says he has set his sights on winning back his place for the Ashes next year.
'The thing that I've got above everyone else that wants to play for England is experience,' Hoggard said. 'I've played 67 test matches, got a few wickets and in big series like the Ashes, I've got the experience to come in.
'I know how the world turns in test match cricket so it'll be easier for me to come in to a test team rather than a new boy making his debut against such strong opponents.'
The All Stars will be led this weekend by Fleming and are favourites in the eight-team competition. Unlike Hoggard, Fleming, a 111-test veteran, who retired earlier this year, does not have any comeback plans on his mind. He is using the Hong Kong sojourn to hone his batting skills before next season's Indian Premier League.
'I jumped at the chance when I got the offer to come to Hong Kong,' Fleming said. 'I want to try to get as much cricket as I can and get fit for the IPL and this suits me perfectly.'
Fleming, who turns out as player-coach with the Chennai Super Kings, has appeared before in this tournament (in 1996 when the event was held at Hong Kong Stadium), and praised the novel niche event. 'This has got its own identity. While Twenty20 is dominating the landscape, I think the Hong Kong Sixes can dovetail with the Twenty20. I like what it is at the moment,' Fleming said. Another All Star who knows what it's like to play at the Sixes is South Africa's Tyron Henderson. The big-hitting batsman figured in the Nicky Boje-led team who won the tournament two years ago, and is looking forward to another winning weekend.
'We beat Pakistan in the final after they had come through a gripping semi-final against India,' he said. 'There are a lot of experienced heads around - three of them with more than 600 tests between them - in this team and I believe we can win it.'
The All Stars are drawn in the Sobers group alongside defending champions Sri Lanka, Australia and Hong Kong. The Bradman group will comprise India, Pakistan, England and South Africa. The top two from each group advance into a round-robin Cup group tomorrow with the top two advancing to the final.