I heart Siddle

Peter Siddle. Siddles. Sizzle. Sid Vicious. Siddlers. Siddleshwar. P Siddy. Call him any name you want, but he is the man a captain would want with the ball in hand, when a break through is desperately sought.

Siddle is the 5th best bowler in the world, and the 3rd best pacer behind the South African duo of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, according to the ICC rankings but not many cricket fans would put his name in the top three fast bowlers currently going around. Jimmy Anderson, Morne Morkel, Steven Finn, Kemar Roach, and his own Victorian teammate James Pattinson would be penciled in to that list before Siddle’s name is even thought of. That’s how he’s played his cricket – as an afterthought to many.

Yet, the piston legs, pumping arms and purposeful run up, and passionate appeals combine to form a prototypical fast bowler every team would love to have. The scowl, creasing his countenance shows a fast bowler that he means business, and that’s when he is happy.

I was lukewarm towards Siddle as he made his Test debut in 2008 against India in Mohali. It could be because he cut short a glorious Tendulkar innings, 12 short of a deserving hundred for his first wicket in Tests. It won’t be the last time he would cut short a Tendulkar masterpiece in the making.

It was past midnight in South-East London where I was sat along with the good folks of Test Match Sofa on the first day of the 2010-11 Ashes when Siddle ripped through the English batting lineup for a hat trick and a career best 6-54. That was the day I got on the Siddle bandwagon, wholeheartedly.

Siddle in the last couple of years has become the fast bowling version of Anil Kumble – no frills, ever reliable, consistent with the effort, constantly at the batsmen and ultra competitive. Kumble, as prolific and proficient he was, spent his entire career in the shadows of Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan, but he was a true match winner. As is Siddle.

Australia hasn’t been given much of a chance in this Ashes series and a lot of it, rightly so. Their batting line up is fragile with just their captain Michael Clarke boasting an average above 40 and will come cropper against Anderson and Co., more often than not. It still might end up being a one-sided series but you can bet your bottom dollar that Siddle, with every throbbing vein and every last sinew in his body, would be trying his damnedest to change that seemingly inevitable fate of this series.

In the third Test of the recent series against India, where Australia were lambasted 4-0 and a lot of the attention was on “home work gate”, even as the result looked a foregone conclusion, Siddle pounded away at the Indian batsmen in the 2nd innings for figures of 11-2-34-1. This was in addition to the 5-fer he notched up at an economy of 2.4, as Shikhar Dhawan lit up the Aussies for a mindboggling 187 on debut.

It is said that great batsmen are appreciated in the flesh, at the ground, and not from the comforts of the couch. The ability to observe the angles, the magnificent minds at work maneuvering the field, the idiosyncrasies, all feed in to the theater of Test cricket as the maestros compose their symphonies. Sometimes, it applies to bowlers as well and Siddle is one of those bowlers that is appreciated more from the stands than on TV beset with its inherent interruptions and close-up cameras.

Watching Siddle at work, intense as he always looks to be, is a fun thing to do. As he walks from fine leg, not dawdling but at marching pace, handing his baggy green briskly to the umpire and reaching the top of his bowling mark in itself is enthralling. The rhythmic run up, with his right index and middle fingers split apart over the seam of the red cherry, eyebrows furrowed, the left arm raised just as he bursts through the crease, releasing itself behind him in a flourish as the ball is hurled forward is a sight to behold.

With each passing delivery when he isn’t successful, the run up seems to gain more speed, even though it is the same every time. The hustle and bustle to the crease seems to be amped up, the appeals louder, the sweat band on his left arm seems to get a working over, his face getting redder, as if he is volcano ready to blow. And when he does, the index finger pointed at the sky comes out which quickly morphs in to full-blown fist pump, as he roars.

I was fortunate enough to see one such Siddle spell at the Melbourne Cricket Ground during India’s last tour down under. The Boxing Day Test was heading India’s way as Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid were involved in a century partnership for the 3rd wicket and as the last session of Day Two was winding down, setting the platform for India to overtake Australia’s 333 in the first essay. And the Test, and perhaps with it the series, turned as Clarke tossed the ball to Siddle for the 59th over with India on 202/2.

In an outstanding display of aggressive, reverse swing bowling, Siddle troubled both batsmen with movement in and out, and had them hopping with his pace. Tendulkar was in the middle of an absolute gem of an innings as Dravid was playing at his own pace.

With the 6th delivery of the 59th over, Siddle cleaned up Dravid but had overstepped. Siddle was frustrated and the volcano was venting. The Melbourne crowd fueled him further with “We love Siddle ‘cause he’s a Victorian” chants and he kicked it in to high gear. Next delivery, delivered at 150 kmph, torpedoed in to Dravid’s stomach as the legend keeled over.

Dravid and Tendulkar had to use all their experience and discipline to stay alive but in the last over of the day, his 4th of the spell, Siddle through sheer skill, broke through Tendulkar’s defenses with a reverse swinging thunderbolt, knocking back the off stump. He broke in to a run, with both index fingers raised, quashing the billion who waited with bated breath for the hundredth hundred.

Tendulkar walked away with pursed lips, shook his head, knowing a workhorse who imposed his will on the proceedings, had beaten him fair and square. Clarke had brought Siddle desperately looking for a breakthrough, and he delivered, just as he did with the wickets of Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott post lunch on Day 1 at Trent Bridge.

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An edited version of this piece was published on ESPN Cricinfo

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