Melbourne: For one of the more aggressive fast bowlers of his time, Rodney Hogg smiles a lot. But in the former Australian pacer's own admission, an aggressive fast bowler can be a nice person off the field too.
Sixty three-year-old Hogg came to India with Kim Hughes' team in 1979-80 and endured a frustrating six-Test series in which he could claim only 11 wickets at 53.73. It was his first overseas Test tour after a stupendous start to his international career in the 1978-79 Ashes at home where he claimed 41 wickets. He was part of the host pace attack when Sunil Gavaskar's team toured Australia in 1980-81 so India was a familiar opponent to Hogg.
mid-day caught up with the Melbourne-based gregarious Hogg who played 38 Tests for Australia from 1978 to 1984. He first played for South Australia before switching to Victoria
Excerpts from an interview:
Watch out for South Africa
I think it's the weakest World Cup I've seen. At the moment, everybody is saying Australia and South Africa, with New Zealand being a bit of a smokey – in the last six months they've won 70% of their ODIs, and obviously playing at home now. But the other teams just seem to have weaknesses. They don't bat long enough and don't have a spinner or quicks. Is that an indictment on cricket, I don't know. I like the look of New Zealand, but South Africa have the two best players in the world in Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers and they haven't won the World Cup so they are the ones to watch out for.
Dhoni's didn't have a good attack
I was just shocked that (then Test skipper Mahendra Singh) Dhoni gave it away in the Test series, though I'm a fan of Dhoni. He tried a lot of things. People criticise his captaincy, but I thought he was having a go. He was trying hard, but he just didn't have the attack. The bowling was never good for the first couple of days and then it got better as the Test match went on. They didn't bowl well in the first innings but seemed to bowl well in the second innings every time.
Your bowling seemed inconsistent. The last time (Umesh) Yadav was out here, he hurried our batsmen a bit and bowled a fast outswinger – I loved that. But then I looked at how many Test matches he's played since and it's not many. Someone asked me why doesn't India produce fast bowlers. If you want to produce fast bowlers, put a bit of grass on the wickets and encourage them. You are never going to have fast bowlers in India because there's no grass on the wickets. Luckily, some of the bowlers have found some reverse swing. In 1979-80, you could put a key in the pitch.
Too flat and dry
The first day of a Test match should have a fair bit in it for the bowlers. It should not be rock hard. The pitches now are like three-day wickets. (Bhuvneshwar) Kumar on the first day in Sydney must have bowled his first over and said 'I'm not going to get any wickets here' because the ball didn't seam or swing. It was flat and dry. Usually the ball swings around in Sydney. When it didn't swing at all – and Kumar doesn't bowl fast enough – he's got to have swing and seam.
No fan of drop-in pitches
It takes the flavour away from the game. The Gabba (in Brisbane) is not a drop- in and grass grows beautifully up there. It's a pretty good pitch. I'm not a drop-in guy because I want to see each Test match centre have its own character. You go to Sydney and it spins. You want to play your semi-final in Sydney, don't you? If India are going to make the final, that's where you want to play your semi-final.
Share of publicity: Hogg 'covered' on major publications in the late 1970s
India's batting is exciting
India really have a batting line up that looks like it's going to be pretty exciting for the next six, seven, eight years. Earlier, you had a Sachin (Tendulkar), (Rahul) Dravid and (Virender) Sehwag, and now you've got a young Sachin, a young Dravid and a young Sehwag. So, you've got them coming through. After all, you blokes love Sachin and he averages what 53 (53.78)? I think to myself, what's Dravid average (52.31)? Now, when you compare Don Bradman and our next best batsman Greg Chappell – Bradman (99.94) is right up there and Chappell (53.86) is way below. So, if Sachin is Bradman, then who is Dravid? He's not far below him. But Sachin has steered India through some hard times and in life you need someone to believe in.
Pacers don't run enough
We are lucky in Australia. We probably have the best fast bowlers Australia's ever seen – 10 really good fast bowlers. They have all been injured a bit but if they all stay fit and have a bit of luck, you'll have quality fast bowlers for Australia. When Mitchell Johnson dropped away a bit and went to Dennis Lillee, Dennis said to him: "Run 10 laps… how long would it take for you to run 10 laps," And Johnson said: "We don't do that many" So Dennis said, "come back to me when you do it in a certain time." Nowadays, young fast bowlers train differently.
They must have the core strength, but I don't think they do too much running. Then, when you get a young fast bowler, you get excited by him and push him. You want to play him here and there. There are three forms of cricket now, so there's a fair bit of more. When I played, I had six months off and six months on. So up until coming to India (in 1979), I used to have the winter off, so my body used to repair and I'd start training again. But now they've got to get used to playing for 12 months of the year, so they are obviously breaking down.
We bowled faster than 'em
I don't think they bowl any faster than us. We weren't coached so you had to be street-smart. Bowlers now get their hands held and are directed by bowling coaches. They don't think for themselves. Having said that, the way they analyse batsmen is great now. They work out the batsman's strengths and weaknesses.
If I played again, I wouldn't bowl another short ball at Viv Richards. You will be pitching it up outside off-stump with your field set accordingly. I wouldn't allow Gordon Greenidge to square cut because he'd kill you. Probably bowling on his leg-stump wouldn't hurt you. So, all that stuff is analysed and fed to bowlers. That's good, but they do get their hand held, aren't street-smart and don't think too much. You got to physically learn how to get people out and I think sometimes when they are pushed through, they don't learn that.
They pushed Cummins too hard
When they tried to get (Pat) Cummins back, they made him play in the U-19s in April. Now here, the summer is from September to March, so why is a kid who has played for Australia made to play an U-19 game in April? I didn't understand that logic. People, who run cricket here, are not fast bowlers but they are in charge of fast bowlers. I'm not saying Craig McDermott (Australia's assistant coach) – he was a sensational fast bowler – but the hierarchy above, who run the show just pushed Cummins and he's not getting a game now. Then, (Josh) Hazlewood came along and he had a bad back a couple of years ago, but he's jumped ahead of him. (Peter) Siddle's not getting a game which is very sad because he is a great bowler.
Hughes' death was a freak accident
Look, if you're driving a car and someone runs up under it, it's very sad, so I'm not sure if I should feel sorry for Sean Abbott. When you bowl short, you don't know that's going to happen. We look at that as a freak accident, but if it happens again, then the hierarchy will have to look at the game a bit differently. But you can't take the bouncer out of the game. The game of cricket is about bowling bouncers.
Didn't mean to hit Shahid
I hit a chap when Australia played a zone team in India (Mohammad Shahid, batting at No 5, for Central Zone in Nagpur, he retired hurt for four in September 1979) and knocked his teeth off. I went down to see his teeth and I cried on the way back. This poor fellow retired hurt. It was 1979 so there were no helmets. I was sad, but he came back two days later and was nice to me. I didn't really mean to hurt him, but it's just part of the game.
The batsman is your enemy
I hit a kid on the head in U-13 cricket. You don't think, you just run in. The batsman is the enemy. He is human when he's walking down the street, but when he has pads on and a bat in his hand, he is the enemy and no one shakes hands with the enemy. No one is nice to their enemy because if you are nice to your enemy, your enemy will get you, belt you. Did anyone feel sorry when Viv (Vivian Richards) was hooking us out of the fence for 10 sixes in a row? Will anyone come down and say 'I'm sorry Hogg', or 'mate you're alright there? No!
Aggression makes you bowl fast
Fast bowlers need to be totally aggressive on the ground but you can be a nice person off it. It might not be easy, but you do find someone like Brett Lee or Pat Cummins who are nice blokes off the ground. But as a fast bowler you have be aggressive, else you're wasting your time. Aggression gives you that extra yard of pace, makes you faster.
Paul Harvey's caricature of Rodney Hogg, who was in the fruit business for a while. Courtesy: The Whole Hogg (Published by Wilkinson Publishing Pty Ltd)
When I swore back
I remember we played Test match and then a one-dayer in Colombo in 1983 and this guy had a flag in the stands and was giving it to me. The best form of sledging in the world is when you cannot understand the other guy. (Arjuna) Ranatunga, Javed (Miandad)… you couldn't understand them so I swore back at this guy badly and then realised that the Sri Lankan president was just eight rows back.
It's all very well to have neutral umpires, but I think you must have umpires, who can understand the dialect. If you don't, then for example, someone like Kohli or Dhoni can say whatever they want. The other day at the MCG, Warner was trying to tell Rohit Sharma to 'speak in English' and they made a big deal out of that. He (Warner) wasn't sledging him, but he got fined. So, you should have umpires, who understand the language of both sides. If that was the case earlier, then Javed (Miandad) might have been the biggest sledger the game has ever seen.
Swore a lot in India
I was not as big a swearer as Lenny Pascoe or Merv Hughes, but I did swear a lot. I swore a lot in India. I predicted Shane Warne would take 500 wickets I was writing for The Truth newspaper and faced Warne in his second district game. The moment I faced him, I had no idea. I thought this is seriously good bowling. Shane bowled three balls to me and those were as good deliveries as any I had faced from a leg-spinner.
So, I thought this was amazing. And with newspapers, you exaggerate a bit and I exaggerated. But as it turned out I was wrong because I wrote 500 and he went on to get 700 wickets. Warne's a freak of the game. He's the Bradman of bowling. Then, two days later, I was sacked. I didn't think much about it then because Warnie had played just one Shield game. So at the time I got sacked, I wasn't thinking about whatever I wrote. I think the paper went broke two years back.
India tour of 1979-80 was a hard one
I was 27 when I made my debut and I had four or five bad back spasms because I am not a big bloke. After India (1979), I came back with a bad back and that was a pretty hard, three-month tour. Even though I didn't get many wickets, I was proud of the fact that I kept going and I was always trying. When I returned, my back gave up but eventually I fought back. So it all started at 27 and finished at 34 and probably had three bad backs along the way.
Madras was unbearable
I got 41 wickets, to be precise and they were really bowler-friendly pitches. There was a lot of seam and swing on those pitches. It was a lot easier to bowl on them than these pitches this summer. So, when you have such a first good season, you start thinking you are pretty good. I started to strut around as if I was a star and then I went to India and had a bowling average of 55 or so. I am still annoyed that Andrew Hilditch dropped a catch off me in Kanpur, else I would have got a fifer. Sunny Gavaskar's bat was very wide, and then when we played the first Test in Madras.
I don't know how Dean Jones made those runs (210 in first innings of the tied Test of 1986) at that time because bowling even two overs in Madras just drained you. So, how do you bowl fast there, and yet when the Poms went there in February 1980, it was a green top and (Ian) Botham took 13 wickets. So it depends on what time of the year you tour India too. I saw that green top where Botham took 13 wickets in Bombay.
Didn't think of Test cricket until 1978
I didn't get a game till I was 27. I wish I had a slightly different direction, when I was younger, but I didn't believe in this stuff. I wasn't thinking of playing Test cricket till I hit (Clive) Radley on the head in October 1978. And while I was going home, I remember a billboard that said Hogg blasts Poms. I had been only been thinking Shield cricket till then. I just didn't think I was capable of Test cricket. There was Lillee and (Jeff) Thomson and to me that was Test cricket. I didn't think I was in their league.
I got booed in Bangalore
I can see it like it was yesterday. I wasn't experienced in getting booed off the ground by so many people. I was at the non-striker's end and I do remember Karsan Ghavri going over the line that much (four inches). I like Karsan. He is a good bloke and we got along really well because we played youth cricket together. But in Bangalore, he was going over that much and when I was bowling, this great, big huge umpire (Kasturi Ramaswami) kept no-balling me. So I kicked the middle stump out of the ground. I kicked the top and it flicked out and went right between the umpire's legs. It would have made a very good photo. The crowd just booed me and threw rocks at me.
Patil batted like he was in Hollywood
I got him the first time in Adelaide and he didn't go down and then Len Pascoe got him. I think I hit him near the shoulder and shook him up a fair bit, but he didn't go down. I remember his cover-drives, the ability to drive the ball which wasn't full. I haven't seen too many people bat like Patil. I thought his cover-driving in Adelaide was spectacular. Usually, the ball has got to be somewhere near the foot to be driven through covers, but he would drive the ball out in front of him. His cover-driving was superb. I thought Patil batted like he was in Hollywood.
Clive Rice was the hardest cricketer I've played against
No regrets whatsoever (for touring South Africa in 1985-86). I enjoyed the cricket. It was tough. I met the hardest cricketer I've played against - Clive Rice and had the honour to bowl to Graeme Pollock. Beautiful. Unfortunately, we didn't play Barry Richards. It was obviously at the end of my career, I was 34-35, I wasn't going to play for Australia. And I couldn't give a rat's backside about the politics of it all.
That's not my problem. I mean, we were trading with South Africa, so why should we be making any sort of stance. Then there was the ban because they had to look like they were doing something, but it didn't worry me because I was finished. It's very funny how we got out of Australia to go to South Africa. We all flew to Singapore, then on to Amsterdam individually and didn't go out as a team. We met up in Singapore, went to Amsterdam and flew down to South Africa. That's how we toured, so people didn't know what was going on.
I'm an entertainer now
I'm sort of an entertainer, a speaker. When you are in your 30s and early 40s, you can't go around telling everyone that you got 41 at 12.85 in the 1978-79 Ashes series. They'll think you've got a big head. But when you get older, 50-60, you can talk about yourself, it doesn't matter. I had a fruit shop. I used to go in the market, buy and sell and then bring it back. I did that till I was 47. Then, I got to know a few people and now I try to be an entertainer.