Hoggard predicts bright future
Tail-end hero Matthew Hoggard believes England could be on the brink of a golden era of success as they close in on an historic Ashes series victory over Australia.
Yorkshire seamer Hoggard demonstrated his growing aptitude with the bat by fending off Brett Lee and Shane Warne for four overs, helping to forge a match-winning 13-run partnership with Ashley Giles which has earned England a 2-1 lead in the series.
Anything but defeat in the final Test at The Oval will ensure England exceed all expectations by claiming their first Ashes series success since 1986-87 and arguably claim the biggest sporting prize on home soil since England won football's 1966 World Cup at Wembley.
While England's footballers have struggled to recapture the heights of Bobby Moore's triumph, Hoggard believes an Ashes win this summer could be the start of a dominant era for England as the side improves and progresses.
"You need to go at Australia hard, you need to play them at their own game," stressed Hoggard.
"We've come out and played some aggressive cricket on the pitch and we've been playing well.
"Thankfully, the side we've got at the moment is capable of going on and doing great things and becoming the Australia of the last 10 years.
"Hopefully we can progress because we haven't played the best cricket that we can play at the moment and I think we can still improve and we're looking bright for the future as well.
"We're quite a young side. The granddad of the side is Ashley at 32, but apart from that we're all in our middle or late 20s and we've still got a good two or three years that we can still improve and go forward."
The signs for the future are certainly encouraging, with a bowling attack the envy of world cricket and a batting line-up now infused with youth following the introduction of Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen in the middle order this summer.
Other than those changes, however, England's line-up has stayed remarkably consistent over the last couple of years of success - which has included five successive series victories leading into the Ashes - following the introduction of central contracts.
It was that move, following similar schemes in Australia and South Africa, which left-arm spinner Giles believes was the key to England's step in the right direction and towards a team capable of finally recapturing the Ashes.
"I've always said central contracts are a huge bonus to this side,'' said Giles. "When it gets tight you know what the other guys are thinking - I knew what Hoggy was thinking towards the end at Trent Bridge.
"The same applies when you're in the field, you know what you're going to get from other people. It's important in those tight situations, those 5% moments, that you understand each other.
"This team in the last 12-18 months have done some special things because we've been consistent in selection and at different times everyone has put their hand up - that's the beauty of the side and it's got to help."
Giles in particular has been helped by the consistency of selection and central contracts, particularly following Australia's 239-run victory in the opening Test at Lord's when several people questioned his role in the side.
Since then he has gone from strength to strength, but stressed: "I will remember those times as well. I won't dwell on them because I will become a very sour old man, but you remember the good times and the bad times.
"This had been easily the toughest four or five weeks of my career. Sleeping is difficult and when you do wake up the first thing you think of is bowling or batting and Shane Warne.
"It's tough, but the rewards are there. Hopefully next week, if we can pull it off, it will certainly be worth a few sleepless nights."
England's hopes of continuing that consistency of selection, though, may be tested by Simon Jones after he damaged his right ankle during the Trent Bridge triumph and is rated as doubtful for The Oval.
Coach Duncan Fletcher has conceded he is 'not confident' of Jones recovering in time for the September 8 start to the final Test, but is keen to give him as long as possible so England can retain the same squad that has guided England into such a dominant position.
England are currently on course to match the achievement of Arthur Shrewsbury's team which toured Australia in 1884-85 as the only previous time in Ashes history where just 11 players have competed in a whole series, although back then they had no other players in the squad.
But Fletcher conceded: "I'm not confident he will play. He'll be a huge loss because he seems to have one over on most of their batsmen, but hopefully he will play.
"It would be nice to go through a series when just 11 players have played all the games. If we were to go on and win that game, it would be nice for everyone to be there who has participated so far in the series."