Peter Siddle shows his Southern Cross tattoo
© Getty Images

Feature

Vicious in the shires

What has red-blooded Victorian Peter Siddle been doing in drizzly, serene Nottinghamshire? A blow-by-blow account

Scott Oliver |

July 15, 2014
Peter Siddle's last act as Nottinghamshire's overseas player was being bounced out by a 40-year-old seamer on a club wicket, the type of dismissal that has prompted more than a few cricketers to pack away their kit for a final time. If anything, however, Siddle should take heart from the indefatigable biomechanical marvel that is Glen Chapple and believe that the challenge assigned to him when he was left out for the third Test against South Africa in March can be accomplished.

His omission in Cape Town came about because Darren Lehmann had asked him to find some extra gas, citing a drop-off in his speeds, from 140kph to 132.

Fine, but is a full county season - increasingly a rarity for top-notch cricketers - the best way to go about it? Why put yourself through the rigours of what one Analyst called A Lot of Hard Yakka? Put your feet up, son. Recharge the batteries.

August 2013
Siddle's decision to play county cricket occurred amid the heat of the Ashes in England. During the Old Trafford Test, he floated the idea to his old bowling coach at Victoria, David Saker, asking him to see which teams might be interested. Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann were keen, and put a word in at Trent Bridge. Meanwhile, Siddle had the club endorsed by two guys with whom he'd played all his senior cricket - two Notts legends, no less - in David Hussey and Darren Pattinson, and that was it. He was an Outlaw.

He had good memories of Trent Bridge too, having snared 5 for 50 on a hectic Ashes opening day. Not a bad bag, either: Root, Pietersen, Trott, Bell, Prior. That surface died quickly, ending up resembling a dusty subcontinental wicket, but he wasn't put off. In fact, he believed it was atypical, a "tactic" used by England.

Still, Sids is synonymous with running in, running in, and running in some more. He's happy to play the long game, like Andy Dufresne with his rock hammer behind the poster of Rita Hayworth. He was a young wood-chopping champion, after all. ("I only did it for a year. I was ten. The media love talking about it because I'm a country boy. If you're mad on sports as a young bloke, you don't really want to be cutting off four of your toes.")

No, Peter Siddle may never have been a prolific wicket-taker, but he is the guy you most need when the going gets tough. He is a solid Top Trumps card: outstanding in no category, decent in them all

April 13-16, 2014
He sat out the season opener against Lancashire while his visa application was being processed in Manila - go figure. Siddle's belated Nottinghamshire debut saw a ten-wicket defeat at Lord's against "a good, structured" Middlesex. His previous visit to NW8 was a 347-run Ashes loss. "The tradition and everything is great, but as a ground it's not actually one of the ones you want to play on."

On the game's opening afternoon, Liverpool FC beat title rivals Manchester City 3-2 in a see-saw thriller in the English Premier League. It was a huge result for the long-suffering Koppites. It seemed certain that their 24-year wait for the title would soon be over. Liverpool is Siddle's team. There was giddiness in the air. A bet was made with a backer of the other runner in the two-horse race: Notts allrounder Steve Mullaney, a dyed-in-the-wool Man City fan, one of two in the Trent Bridge dressing room.

Sids took his feel-good vibes out to the middle, cracking 40 from 35 balls against the second new cherry. It was not a typical Siddle innings. He's stodgy. His most famous innings is the 117-ball 38 in a Sydney Test that Pakistan may or may not have offered as a belated Christmas present. He had hit eight sixes in his entire career when he arrived in Nottingham.

However, here "he was seeing it like a banana", reported ESPNcricinfo's Vithushan Ehantharajah, the enhanced vision evidently a result of not being so misty-eyed about the famous old place.

April 27-29, 2014
Two games are probably scant basis on which to organise an exorcism, but Siddle's home debut saw the Notts bandwagon spluttering on the hard shoulder following a second successive defeat. After the second day, the ECB pitch inspectors dropped by to investigate why 33 wickets had fallen - four claimed by Siddle, incidentally, all top-six players.

Replying to Warwickshire's 263, Notts had been skittled for 116. Sids then snared 3 for 38 as a chase of 300 was set up for a Notts batting line-up strong enough to exclude Alex Hales. A scoreboard of 118 for 1 whispered sweet promises, like a holiday fling saying goodbye at the airport; 156 for 7, when Sids strode out, was a hangover on an eight-hour flight. Notts lost by 98 runs.

On the opening day of the match, Liverpool went down 0-2 to Chelsea. A draw would have kept Liverpool in control of their destiny. Chelsea's coach Jose Mourinho smiled maniacally, even though his team had fallen out of the race. It was now Man City's title to lose.

May 4-7, 2014
Next stop for our hero was Somerset: 182 miles on the road, four days on a road, the game petering out to a tame draw, at the end of which Siddle's season, statistically rendered, was 6 for 307 from 85 overs. "Undercooked," reckoned fellow Outlaw and England's newest limited-overs death bowler Harry Gurney. "Or perhaps overcooked, given the schedule he's had."

Another seamer, Luke Fletcher, thought him "rusteh" and believed "he maybe didn't realise how tough Division One cricket is". Fletch, a former grill man at the UK's sole remaining Hooters, had certainly warmed to Siddle, though: "You could watch England-Australia on the telleh and maybe you think he's a bit of an idiot because everyone's at it. But honestly, he's a genuinely nice person."

At the close of day two, Siddle sat back to watch the last rites of Liverpool's title campaign, a 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace, the Reds frittering away a 3-0 lead with 11 minutes left in a kamikaze effort to cut the goal difference deficit. Mullaney bought him the Manchester City shirt - Siddle, No. 7 - that he would soon be obliged to wear as his forfeit.

"In England you have to dig deep to get more out of yourself" © Getty Images

May 27, 2014
Sat in the President's Suite at the top of the Trent Bridge pavilion, I awaited a first meeting with Peter Siddle. The Nottingham skyline, such as it is, lay hidden behind a thick wall of mizzle. There was no immediate prospect of play. He entered with a plate of roast butternut squash. He ate well, refuelling with a little more nutritional diligence than another great Victorian fast bowler, Merv Hughes. Lean and cheerful, he had just been on a first visit to the Big Apple, celebrating his partner Anna's birthday (the highlight of his trip, he told me, was a 30-minute helicopter ride around the landmarks), before returning to a quintessential English cricketing scene.

Under floodlights, and between the showers of grey drizzle falling from chrome skies, he had opened the bowling with Broad, playing a rare county game to demonstrate his recovery from tendonitis of the knee (Broad was given the first over, incidentally). It was a stiff challenge for Durham's openers, Mark Stoneman and Keaton Jennings, facing two Ashes veterans. Neither took a wicket, though, as a slow pitch sapped the life from their efforts.

I asked him whether his kick at the footholes was frustration with the pitch. "No," he answered, staying on message. "The run-ups just got a bit damp." I then asked whether it was part of his job description to mentor the youngsters: Jake Ball, Andy Carter, Fletcher, Broad… ? "Ha! I don't think he needs too much advice. He has a few more Test wickets than me, and he's younger!"

It was evident there's a bond between Broad and Siddle. They'd had a good laugh about the remorseless spraying Broad received in Australia.

I grabbed a chat with Notts' new bowling coach, Andy Pick, a man who looks a little like an Icelandic powerlifter, and someone who once bustled in and whanged it down briskly at Trent Bridge. He spoke about Siddle's adaptation to county cricket. His gut feeling, backed up with stats, was that he wasn't making the batsmen play often enough and needed to bowl a tighter line: "I noticed he bowled straighter at Ian Bell but that was a plan from the winter. In Test cricket they'll be aggressive, but in county cricket, batters will look to see him off." And what about pace? Can he add what Lehmann was looking for? "I don't see a huge amount that's going to add 10kph. It's all right saying that's what you need to do, but bowlers do have an optimum pace."

As a coach loath to "speak up for the sake of speaking up", one who is more about getting batsmen out than technical refinement, Pick is very similar to Saker, thinks Siddle: "In shape and size, as well as the way they go about things!"

"You could watch England-Australia on the telleh and maybe you think he's a bit of an idiot because everyone's at it. But honestly, he's a genuinely nice person" Luke Fletcher, Nottinghamshire fast bowler

May 11-14, 2014
A nip-backer, chronologically speaking. Prior to our meeting, Siddle had tasted both his first Championship victory - against Northamptonshire - and what would turn out to be his best match figures: 8 for 136, including three of the top four in both digs.

I wondered whether he had been asked to be an "enforcer" for Notts, but he said Mick Newell, Director of Cricket, had given him no precise role. I also wondered whether his role in the Australian team is to some extent determined by Shane Watson: if Watson can bowl ten overs a day, then Lehmann might feel he has the scope to select three rocket launchers. "I can bowl to situations. When we were a four-man attack, I was the one who had to keep the economy down, be patient and build pressure. If there's five, I can change, come in harder."

Even so, Siddle is not a prolific wicket-taker - he has never taken a seven-for in professional cricket, has only eight five-fors in 53 Tests, and a first-class career-best of 9 for 77. He doesn't explode, he grinds. Drip, drip, drip, rather than dynamite. You never shake him off.

November 2012-present
Siddle's health has undoubtedly been affected by his 20-a-day habit. Yes, 'dem bananas. As bananas as Jack Russell's tea consumption. According to his Twitter bio, Siddle is a "plant-based athlete", and the bananas stop cramping and build muscle - though lest anyone think he sits and eats them one after the other, he points out that two smoothies per day account for most.

Anna is a lifelong vegetarian who made the switch to veganism four years ago. Siddle followed suit a couple of years back "after a little bit of a push from her to change. But it was my decision. I did some research into it, checked out various athletes, and just saw the recovery benefits. You can be ready to go again in three days."

Not that his diet helped him after the Adelaide Test against South Africa in November 2012, which became a gruelling match for Siddle after James Pattinson - his "best mate", former new-ball partner at Dandenong CC, and replacement in Australia's recent Test team - broke down. Faf du Plessis saved the game with a vigil that lasted 376 balls, seven fewer than what Siddle was asked to bowl across both innings. It was a superhuman effort in infernal heat, at the end of which Siddle got down on his haunches, spent and nauseous, and admitted to Michael Clarke that he couldn't play the final Test - all of which shows what a fair-dinkum team man he is, a recurring theme when you ask Notts players or staff about him.

June 1-4, 2014
June arrived, and a trip to Hove to play Sussex, a draw featuring three "daddy hundreds": 156 from Samit Patel, 167 from Alex Hales off only 133 balls, and 164 not out from Sussex skipper Ed Joyce.

It was the second in a run of six Championship games in six weeks. Siddle's basic timetable had been as follows: Four-day fixture from Sunday to Wednesday. Thursday was a recuperation day - swim, massage, or occasionally an hour's sleep suspended in the salt water of a flotation tank. Friday was his weights day ("That's what's gonna keep you on the park, gonna keep you playing, gonna keep you strong, gonna keep you fit"), when he also tried to fit in some cricket training before invariably heading down to support the Outlaws in the rejigged NatWest Blast T20 competition.

Cricket Australia had made no specific stipulations about his workload, yet Siddle and Notts between them had thought it prudent for him to sit out the shortest form, not least because having played only 17 T20 games in his career, and not being in Australia's limited-overs plans, it made sense for him to bowl what Pick calls "relevant overs". That said, he had agreed to play 50-over games in July and August since he still harbours hopes of making the Australian World Cup squad and maybe that was a way he might rediscover some zip: "There are lots of different ways you can go about [finding extra pace]. But I think actually playing cricket is the best way to see where you're at, how you're travelling."

After so long on the road, he appreciated being able to settle in and live as he would at home. Indeed, within weeks of arriving in Nottingham, he attended a peaceful demonstration in the Market Square, protesting over an animal-testing facility on the city's outskirts. Siddle's concern for animal welfare is not solely dietary; it has led him to sponsor a colony of 33cm-high little penguins (eudyptula minor) on Phillip Island, south of Melbourne, as well as taking on an ambassadorial role for a charity for "retired" farm animals. And the feeling of being at home extends to tumbling down the road on a Friday: "He's absolutely bonkers," chuckled Gurney, "and has great enthusiasm, even when he's not out on the field. He's always screaming and shouting and joking in the dressing rooms."

With occasional team-mate and opponent Stuart Broad, and (from left) rugby players Jackson Wray and Owen Farrell in the Red Bull garage at Silverstone

With occasional team-mate and opponent Stuart Broad, and (from left) rugby players Jackson Wray and Owen Farrell in the Red Bull garage at Silverstone © Getty Images

June 8-11, 2014
Siddle's strongest performance for Notts was at Headingley, a ground where he took 5 for 21 during Australia's victory in 2009. With Jason Gillespie, a long-time South Australia team-mate of Lehmann's, looking on from the Yorkshire dressing room, an analysis of 23-3-65-4, including the Championship's leading run scorer Adam Lyth, may well have been fed back to the Australia coach.

Siddle also batted with uncharacteristic panache in Leeds, making unbeaten scores of 39 and 48, each from 35 balls. By this stage he was averaging a phenomenal 47, at a strike rate of 95, having added four sixes to that career total of eight, a fact he modestly ascribes to "playing on outside pitches". It was certainly a shorter bunt than at the MCG.

Not that he has had to adapt his batting too much: "It's only the Queenslanders and those boys that play at the WACA who hang back on the crease. The conditions in Melbourne are pretty similar to here."

June 17, 2014
The first sound I heard when walking into Trent Bridge for the final day of Notts' game against Middlesex was: "Yes, Lukey boy. C'mon Fletch!"

Having racked up 505 in the first innings, Middlesex were pushing to set a declaration target. Out at deep cover, in the shadow of Trent Bridge's "Batman" building (think London's Gherkin and Shard) was Siddle, his relentless enthusiasm pinging off the near-empty Bridgford Road Stand. This was his eighth outing, an octet that had yielded a single victory, but here Notts ended up chasing down a colossal 385 for a win that took them to the top of the Championship.

We nattered for a second time in the President's Suite, watching the Notts top order knock off the target. I kept the questions light, reasoning that I'd get one more chat to touch on any potentially ticklish subjects.

Siddle is hugely patriotic - he has a tattoo of the Southern Cross across his back - and an unrepentant sports tragic. He regularly tweets support to Aussie athletes - be they basketball players in the NBA draft or the men's hockey team, who won the World Championship during this game - and is a huge fan of Aussie Rules football (North Melbourne Kangaroos), rugby league, and of course football. On the eve of the Middlesex game Australia had lost 1-3 to Chile in their opening World Cup fixture in Brazil. With their other two opponents being Netherlands and Spain, qualification wasn't looking too likely. Even so, Siddle had popped over the road to buy a Panini sticker album, and the team busied themselves working out lookalikes for each other, deciding that Siddle's doppelganger was Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko - Man City again!

Siddle's concern for animal welfare is not solely dietary; it has led him to sponsor a colony of 33cm-high little penguins on Phillip Island, south of Melbourne

June 19, 2014
Forty-eight hours after Middlesex were bested, the day after a 3-2 Australia loss to eventual semi-finalists Netherlands, news emerged that Siddle would be airlifted from Notts' season earlier than planned. Cricket Australia didn't give a specific reason - again, there had been no workload stipulations - but they did allow him to play three more games.

June 22-25, 2014
The first of Siddle's three-game farewell was a final outing at Trent Bridge against Somerset. Notts skittled the visitors for 168, more than half of which came from the broadsword of "Banger" Trescothick before he nicked off to Siddle. Notts then rattled up 461, to which Sids contributed a globe. A round 50 from Somerset No. 11 Jamie Overton averted an innings defeat, but victorious Notts were now tied with Yorkshire at the top of the table and on course for a third Championship pennant in ten seasons. Meanwhile, Australia finished in Brazil with a 0-3 defeat to Spain. Bragging rights to the Poms, then, after England's valiant 0-0 with Costa Rica.

July 1, 2014
It's an upright approach, quick and bustling. Eighteen scurried paces, the first seven or eight of which are with the ball held in both hands across his stomach, before they are unclasped to allow his elbows to pump in time with those knees. As the joints thrust, torso and head scarcely move, in the manner of certain hunting dogs whose legs are a flurry of energy and forward propulsion while they glide over the ground but whose eyes remain stillness itself, never removed from their quarry. Here, Siddle had Trott, a familiar foe, very much in his sights.

His first ball was a bumper, which thwacked into Trott's gloves and down into a vacant short leg. The second ball was a bumper too. Trott hopped to play it, thrusting hands towards the missile while jerking his head away in instinctive self-defence, but the ball trampolined over batsman and wicketkeeper, barrelling into the advertising boards below the press box. Game on.

It was the evening session on day three against Warwickshire at Edgbaston. Notts had squandered at least three near-impregnable positions - collapsing from 396 for 5 to 406, then allowing the Bears to recover to 343 from 227 for 8, finally setting Warwickshire a chase of 289 despite having effectively been 182 for 2 - and in an almost empty, atmosphere-free bowl they needed some inspiration. Could Siddle summon something? "I'm not gonna lie, sometimes you're a bit buggered and you need a bit of a spark-up. Pretty much, though, once you get out there and get into the battle - for me, when I get that ball in my hand - you just say, 'Let's have a crack.'"

It was a relentless, remorseless pursuit, but Trott survived until stumps. He would, however, be bounced out by Siddle the next morning, yet Warwickshire still won by a relatively comfortable three wickets. It's the sort of negligent defeat that can make a team feel empty, as though you've tossed away the Championship.

He doesn't explode, he grinds. Drip, drip, drip, rather than dynamite

He doesn't explode, he grinds. Drip, drip, drip, rather than dynamite © Getty Images

July 2, 2014
The last time we had spoken, I'd asked Siddle to compare Australian and English domestic cricket. "It's hard to say about the quality," he had said, with due consideration, "but back home there are only six teams to fill, which gives it that chance to be a little bit stronger. Here, it depends on circumstances: an injury or two and a couple of international stars away can leave it bare." (Having said that, he thinks Notts would go well in the Sheffield Shield.)

He also pointed out the bodily rigours involved: "You're never fully 100%, but over there you're going to be closer to 100% each time you go out. In England, you have to work out how you're going to get through those little barriers in a competition like this. You have to dig deep to get more out of yourself."

Warwickshire was his sixth game in six weeks. A lot of sweat. He still didn't have a five-for. No sweat. "I've never really worried about numbers. I know if I'm bowling well or not bowling well." The key indicator is rhythm through the crease: "Getting up there, feeling strong. But it can be hard to judge when you're playing games back to back."

July 4-12, 2014
After six consecutive weeks playing, Siddle had a week off. He rested by playing for Rest of the World against MCC in the Lord's Bicentennial game, where he was taken for four elegant boundaries by Sachin Tendulkar.

The following day, Sids attended the British Grand Prix with Broad, dropping in on Red Bull's new Australian star Daniel Ricciardo, who had recently won his maiden Formula 1 race in Canada. However, the Silverstone champagne would be handed to Lewis Hamilton, no doubt to Broad's delight.

After another break, in Cap Rocat, Majorca, his final game arrived.

July 15, 2014
So there I was, taking a morning stroll along the tree-lined A561 through Aigburth to the Liverpool CC ground, hoping to parlay with Siddle on perhaps his final day of cricket for Notts. The previous evening he'd knocked over Lancashire's openers as the home team closed the first-innings deficit.

The third day began cool, bright and blustery: that perennial struggle of Atlantic-facing England to chase the clouds away. The ground showed off all its ramshackle charm - unused ping-pong tables sat incongruously behind the spectators' fold-up chairs - as I made my way round to the press tent and scribbled down the questions I wanted to ask later.

Meanwhile the game skipped along at a frisky pace. Siddle failed to add to his overnight brace - woodcutting champion he may have been, but he hadn't really pulled up any trees, finishing with 37 wickets at 31.48 - and, as the sun finally asserted itself just after noon, a couple of his quick-bowling comrades, Gurney and Fletcher, worked through the Lancs middle and lower order. Notts had come alive. They would be chasing 170.

Out of the long-held belief that every toiling quick bowler deserves a bit of feet-up time, I gave it 45 minutes or so before popping the question about popping the questions. Mick Newell swung by the press tent, full of praise for Siddle and philosophical about his departure. By then Notts had slipped to 53 for 4. They'd botched the game at Edgbaston, now they were botching this. This was not the way fond farewells are supposed to be. Due in at No. 8, Siddle was now padding up.

Patel and Wessels conspired to get caught in the covers, and Siddle walked out at 116 for 6. Six minutes later, he was making the return journey, a throat ball from Glen Chapple so rushing and cramping him that his half-aborted pull shot had looped to point for the seventh-easiest catch in history. It was no open-top bus parade, this Aussie au revoir.

Fletcher dug in, keeping Chris Read company for 103 balls - each boundary from Read tugging a throaty roar from within the tense silence of the players' balcony - until, with seven runs required, he edged Kabir Ali to third slip, trudging off at the speed of rush-hour traffic.

After a relatively lengthy bedding-in period of two deliveries, Andre Adams smeared his third ball through wide mid-on for four, then swung even harder at the next, steepling the ball just out of reach of a converging wicketkeeper and third man. Two runs. Scores level. Points in the bag. Well done, Notts! Kabir then decided he might as well slip in a bouncer, which 'Dre obligingly kitchen-sinked straight to long leg.

No bother, though, because Read, now on 40, would be on strike - unless, of course, he had somehow contrived to cross as the ball was in the air. D'oh! The tie was now favourite. Squeaky bums slid to the edge of squeaky seats, yet Gurney, a genuine rabbit, proceeded to smoke Chapple through the covers to secure, by a single wicket, a victory that would undoubtedly make Siddle's voyage a little more bon.

So-so summer: Siddle finished his Notts stint with 37 wickets at 31.48

So-so summer: Siddle finished his Notts stint with 37 wickets at 31.48 © Getty Images

July 16, 2014
It was a thrilling climax to Siddle's time with Nottinghamshire. Yet it was also strangely anti-climactic inasmuch as, due to decisions and desires beyond their control, Notts would be denied their star import for the rest of the season (how they could have used him during the Championship run-in, as their challenge to Yorkshire fell away). The story was denied its natural conclusion.

Likewise, having left Aigburth without speaking to Siddle, yet having sketchily arranged to conclude things over the phone, I awaited a call or an email, but it became increasingly clear that, due to forces beyond my control, I would be denied the chance to dot the i's and cross the t's of this story. I knew how Notts felt, each with our truncated narratives. No matter, though, for both could still finish agreeably, thankful for the contribution Siddle had made.

While I would have liked to delve beyond the conventional, I wasn't there to find a scoop ("Siddle seeks British citizenship!") and hadn't expected him to be an open book. I'd wanted to ask him how he was travelling as a bowler, whether he'd found the 8kph, how many of his best days he had left, and how worried he was that the new wave of Aussie quicks - Pattinson, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc - might close off his pathway back into the side. While those Stradivarius bowlers Johnson and Harris were hogging the plaudits across back-to-back Ashes, had the Victorian gone from fecund Siddle to second fiddle?

No, Peter Siddle may never have been a prolific wicket-taker, but he is the guy you most need when the going gets tough. He is neither quick enough to be a bully nor tall enough to spring length balls into the splice, nor does he gain enough movement to regularly run through top sides. He is a solid Top Trumps card: outstanding in no category, decent in them all.

He is a solid citizen, too, an ethical person unafraid to hold views that are far from orthodox in peer-group environments that can often weed out the unconventional. The word that comes insistently to mind when watching him, when speaking with him, is honesty. He was an honest interviewee; he was honest enough not to play after his Adelaide exertions against South Africa, when a more selfish cricketer might have clung on; and he was thoroughly honest in the way he ran in, pounding away at the top of off stump, happy to do the hard yakka.

The near-future, the eternal past
Siddle's last act as a Nottinghamshire player wasn't getting a duck. It was celebrating this victory against Lancashire and, before that, experiencing the curiously masochistic pleasure of watching a ticklish run chase in the company of your team, with its glass-half-full and half-empty merchants, its gallows humour, its superstitions. These are the moments to savour as sportsmen, the moments that seal potentially lifelong friendships.

Whether Siddle ever wears the stag again is uncertain, but what did seem certain was that, over the remaining months of an ultimately fruitless season, there would be one Australian fast bowler closely following Notts' fortunes on ESPNcricinfo, no doubt with more than a few fingers crossed.

Scott Oliver tweets here

 

RELATED ARTICLES

 

LOGIN TO POST YOUR COMMENTS