The 1978-79 Ashes was not supposed to be a competitive one to begin with. Whereas England were complete with Ian Botham, Bob Willis, Mike Hendrick, and Chris Old, Australia had a rather inexperienced attack; the batting line-ups were comparable, and England were easily the favourites going into the series.
Without the likes of Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, and Len Pascoe, the Australian bowling attack looked rather unfamiliar. Indeed, when Willis, Old, and Botham skittled out Australia for 116 at Brisbane, nobody seemed to know who would open the bowling. As things turned out, Graham Yallop gave the new ball to Alan Hurst, and got Rodney Hogg on from the other end.
Hogg did not look like a fast bowler. If anything, he looked like a film star with his golden mane and blue eyes. He had asthma, which meant he could not bowl for long spells. However, as Hogg steamed in, the English openers realised that it really did not matter whether Lillee and Thomson were available or not. Hogg was as fast and as aggressive as any contemporary fast bowler. Hogg took six for 74, and though England won the Test, the home team was happy to have unearthed yet another speedster of exceptional pace.
By the time the teams reached Perth for the second Test, Hogg was already considered the spearhead of the depleted Australian attack; England won again, but Hogg returned figures of five for 65 and five for 57. He was clearly the lone Australian standing in a series that was quickly turning out to be a disaster for the home team.
Hogg wasn’t to give up, though: in his next Test, at Melbourne, he picked up five for 30 and five for 36, and Australia finally managed to win a Test. He had picked up 27 wickets from three Tests, with five five-fors in his first six innings and two 10-fors in his first three Tests. England thrashed Australia 5-1 in the series, but Hogg ended the series with 41 wickets from six Tests at an absurd 12.85. He had made up for the absence of both Lillee and Thomson, and had done that in the most spectacular fashion. He had beaten the technical giants like Geoff Boycott time and again with raw pace, and that single series propelled him as a potential great.
Little did he know that 41 wickets would turn out to be one-third of his eventual career tally.
Strangely enough, Hogg had started his career as a specialist batsman. He played for Northcote Cricket Club, but was soon diagnosed with a serious back problem in 1970. Other fast bowlers — like Hurst and Max Walker — went past him to make it to the Victoria side; Hogg was forced to follow the footsteps of fellow Northcote fast bowler Gary Cosier to South Australia, and made it to the state side.
Hogg was immensely popular in South Australia. Being the leader of the attack helped, and Hogg’s performances made him an instant star. People went to the ground to watch him bowl, and they never failed to arouse him by chanting his name as he ran in to bowl in Adelaide Oval.
A chain of good performances saw him breakthrough in the Test side. The rest, as they say, is history.
Hogg kept up his good work by picking up 10 wickets from two Tests in the home series against Pakistan. However, he disappointed on the India tour, picking up only 11 wickets from the six Tests at a rather pedestrian 53.72. Worse, he lost his rhythm completely in the Bangalore Test, bowling 11 no-balls in six overs. Furious at not being able to perform, bowled a beamer, kicked down the stumps, and left the ground. His captain Kim Hughes immediately apologised to the umpire, and made Hogg apologise as well, and the issue was settled then and there.
He played only two Tests in the Frank Worrell Trophy that followed, and performed miserably. Though he picked up 10 wickets from two Tests against New Zealand at 12.80, Hogg was never really the same bowler he was in the 1978-79 Ashes. He still somehow managed to retain his place, despite the return of the big names, but it was evident that time was running out for Hogg.
Hogg played five more Ashes Tests spread over the two series that followed, taking four wickets at 30.75 at home and 11 wickets at 27.45 in England. At the end of the later series, Hogg’s Ashes records read 56 wickets from 11 Tests at 17.00.
Hogg had one final hurrah at Bridgetown in 1984-85. He bowled with hostile pace against a star-studded West Indies line-up, picking up six for 77. However, the Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding bowled out Australia for 97, and yet another Hogg five-for went in vain.
Later that year, Hogg was appointed the vice-captain to Hughes. However, after the Frank Worrell Trophy at home, Hughes resigned and signed up for two rebel tours to South Africa in 1985-86 and 1986-87. Hogg decided to join him, thereby bringing his career to an abrupt end. Had he hung around, though, he may have acted as a mentor to the fast bowlers of the newer generation, like Craig McDermott and Bruce Reid.
Unlike most bowlers, Hogg’s numbers did not depend on how well his side performed. He took 32 wickets from nine Test victories at 22.53, and 68 wickets from 16 Test defeats at 22.25, indicating the topsy-turvy ride Australia took in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In all, his career numbers were 123 wickets at 28.47 from 38 Tests — a reasonably impressive tally.
In One-Day Internationals (ODIs), too, he picked out the English for special treatment. He picked up 22 wickets from his 12 ODIs against them at 16.95, conceding 3.30 runs per over. In the 1983-84 Benson and Hedges World Series Cup, which also involved Pakistan and West Indies, Hogg picked up 22 wickets from 13 ODIs at 21.86, conceding 4.04 runs per over. The previous year he had picked up 16 wickets from 12 ODIs at 23.56 with an economy rate of 3.39 in the same tournament (England and New Zealand were the other teams). In all, Hogg finished with 85 ODI wickets from 71 ODIs at 28.44 at a more than impressive 3.94 runs per over.
If one managed to go past Hogg’s aggressive shell, he would possibly be pleasantly surprised to find a genial person with a surprisingly good sense of humour. His tenure as a Victorian bowling coach and his eloquence made him a reputed corporate speaker, where he often begins his speeches with “I’m constantly embarrassed for people who mistake me for some other sporting hack. We are talking about a bloke who took 41 Test wickets at 12.85 in the 1978-79 Ashes series, not some pie-chucker who played a couple of Tests.”
He had also witnessed all possible incidents of contemporary Australian cricket. In his own words, “I was there for the 500 to one [referring to the odds before the decisive day at Headingley 1981], I was there for the 43 cans [referring to Rodney Marsh’s record consumption of beers in a single flight — a record subsequently broken by David Boon], I was there for the underarm [Trevor Chappell], I was there for the aluminium bat [Lillee]…”
He was weird enough to make his wife erase the videotapes of a soft dismissal, since he did not want his son to think that his father was a coward. On the other hand, even before Shane Warne made his First-Class debut, he had predicted that Warne would go on to take 500 Test wickets (based on the simple calculation that he would play 100 Tests, and take five wickets per Test), and was generally ridiculed, and later, sacked by The Truth. The rest is history. In typical Rodney Hogg fashion, he retorted “maybe they knew I was about 200 wickets short”. He called his autobiography The Whole Hogg – Inside the Mind of a Lunatic Fast Bowler.
As a bit of advice for young Australian fast bowlers, his mantra is simple: “Pitch it up with the odd bouncer and sledge them at every opportunity.” Simple, and yet possibly nothing else reflects his personality more.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)
First Published: March 5, 2013, 1:16 pm