Siddle puts fire in Ashes

2010-11-27 00:00

A SINGLE over from Peter Siddle changed the course of a tense first day in the first Ashes Test at the Gabba. Until then the match had been meandering along as the sides circled each other like boxers, reluctant to drop their guard lest their chin pay the penalty. Although plugging away energetically, the Aussies had become defensive, aiming wide of the sticks. Reluctant to take risks, the Poms had mostly shouldered arms. After all the waiting and talking the exchanges had lacked pizzazz.

And then came the burst that ruined England’s day and awoke Australia from their torpor.

Siddle has spent his winter training with cyclists and Australian Football League (Aussie rules) squads and they don’t take prisoners. Realising he had become lazy and refusing to accept second-best from himself, he toiled away unseen in the thankless months. Suffice it to say his sweat paid dividends.

Not that he was a certain starter in this match. Sceptics were not convinced he moved the ball enough to trouble Test batsmen. But the selectors saw him bowling for Victoria and he looked sharp and streamlined. Moreover his captain values the toughness he brings to the team, not least because it mirrors his own. Some bowlers need constant reassurance. Ricky Ponting already has enough of those in his jurisdiction. Siddle gets on with the job.

And so he was chosen for the first Test. As usual he put in an unstinting effort, but the Englishmen were defiant and the pitch was slow and five hours passed without much happening. If anything the visitors had edged in front thanks to staunch innings from two previously unsung batsmen, Alistair Cook and Ian Bell. Australians don’t think anyone can bat ’til they see it with their own eyes. Compared to them Doubting Thomas was a true believer. Bell, especially, proved his worth. He emerged as a gifted player with a sound technique.

As he stood at the top of his mark preparing for that 66th over of the innings, Siddle cannot have known that he was about to enter the roll of honour. By and large shattering events occur without warning. Everyone, though, knew Siddle would put body and soul into every delivery. That is his custom. It is also a precondition of mighty feats.

And so it proved. First he ended Cook’s vigil by bringing him forwards and bouncing the ball enough to take the shoulder of the bat. Next he pitched up again, persuaded Matt Prior to aim a vivid drive. Finally he produced the perfect delivery for Stuart Broad, an inswinging yorker that was too fast and too full for the airy tailender.

All that planning, all that preparation, had been blown away by an inspired burst. Ultimately cricket is a human journey, a tale of the heart as well as the head. Siddle had become only the fourth Australian to take a hat-trick in an Ashes Test. He put his name alongside those of Fred Spofforth, Hugh Trumble and Shane Warne. It is good company to keep.

Nor was the Victorian finished. Graeme Swann soon followed and only a dropped catch denied the paceman entry into seventh heaven. Typically, though, he laughed as the chance was grounded. Not that he is light-hearted. Just that he does not let the game bring him down.

Siddle did more than enter the record books. He upheld a great tradition. At its best Ashes cricket pits fiery fast bowlers against brave batsmen. In these exchanges the game becomes a raw, sometimes brutal, confrontation. It is sport stripped naked.

History tells of Spofforth with his dark gleam, Frank Tyson with his arched back, Harold Larwood with his athletic thunderbolts, Ray Lindwall with his stunning swingers, John Snow with his steep bounce, and others, including Denis Lillee, Thommo, and Fred Trueman.

Siddle might not be quite as good as these speedsters but he has one thing in common with them; an absolute refusal to give in. Put a ball in his hand and he will run in as hard as he can and bowl as fast as he can until his captain tells him he needs a break. Always he takes the fight to the enemy camp. He did that yesterday and so changed the direction of the day.


• Peter Roebuck is an international cricket correspondent who is based in between Pietermaritzburg and Australia. He is currently covering the Ashes series.

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