Wednesday 21 March, 2018

England can still win Ashes as Hoggard urges Root's men to smarten up

Matthew Hoggard believes England are still capable of winning the Ashes even without Ben Stokes if they put Australia's batsmen under the pump, though the former star bowler called on Joe Root's men to be more "street-savvy" amid their off-field controversies.

Ashes holders England trail 2-0 heading into Thursday's third Test in Perth, where Australia will look to claim an unassailable lead in their bid to ensure the coveted urn remains on their soil.

While the tourists have struggled on the field following defeats by 10 wickets and 120 runs, it has been their actions off the pitch that have proven more concerning and frustrating for captain Root and the coaching staff.

Amid the uncertainty over the participation of star all-rounder Stokes, who was unable to fly out with the rest of the squad due to an ECB suspension following his arrest on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm on a night out in Bristol in September, England have also been forced to deal with incidents involving wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow and Ben Duckett.

Bairstow dominated headlines for his 'headbutt' greeting to Australia opener Cameron Bancroft which took place prior to the Ashes, while England Lions batsman Duckett added more fuel to the fire when he was suspended for pouring a drink over the head of veteran paceman James Anderson in a bar before a tour game against a Cricket Australia XI in Perth.

Hoggard – no stranger to the hostile Ashes arena having played a starring role in his country's famous 2005 triumph – urged England to smarten up on their tour of Australia.

"When you're in the headlights and everybody is gunning for you, and Australia is a place where you get abused by your grandads, everybody and the dog walking down the street, you need to be on your best behaviour," the 40-year-old told Omnisport.

"It's not a shock. You know people are wanting you to screw up so it can plastered all over the papers, and there will be times they'll try to set you up to make you look silly.

"You have to be more street-savvy and say: 'Right, I know we have bad press at the moment so even the smallest of things will be blown out of proportion, so I can't do the smallest of things, I have to be goody-two-shoes until everything dies down.'

"Then the silly little things are looked over because there hasn't been a press story for a while so you can't give them any ammunition."

Reflecting on the series so far, Hoggard – who amassed 248 Test wickets before retiring in 2008 – said: "England are notorious for not starting off well on tours. We are 2-0 down. We like doing things the hard way.

"We haven't done well so far but we are capable of still winning the Ashes. There's still three games left. We know what happens when you put Australian batsmen under the pump.

"And you know what Australian press are like. If you are doing well, they're all over you. But if you're not, there's going to be some cracks opening up. We need to open up some cracks but that's a long way off at the moment."

"The Australians have not been put under pressure on the batting side. Before the series, I told people to take out David Warner and [captain] Steve Smith and name me the four batters and nobody could. We've seen in Adelaide when they did move sideways, their techniques are a little bit suspect."

If trying to stay alive in the Ashes was not motivation enough, Alastair Cook's 150th Test appearance should help inspire England at the WACA.

Already the team's most capped player and leading runscorer, former captain Cook – who dismissed talk of retirement ahead of the third Test having only managed scores of 2, 7, 37 and 16 on the tour – will celebrate another milestone and ex-team-mate Hoggard said: "He had a lean patch before and came back and was good. If he has two good innings and helps win games for England, everyone is going to shut up.

"But who is knocking on the door? Who is knocking on the door saying, 'Right then, if you don't score runs I'm next in line because I'm scoring hundreds and hundreds of runs in County cricket'? Absolutely nobody… He just needs to put a performance together and everybody will be hunky-dory."