Siddle transcends the ordinary
For much of his career, the depictions of Peter Siddle tended to focus on what he didn't have. He wasn't the quickest, nor the tallest, wasn't the biggest swinger of the ball, and certainly wasn't the most cerebral bowler for Australia. He wasn't considered the fittest fast man going around, either. Siddle had plenty of heart of course, and plenty of aggression. But it was easier to define him by what was missing rather than by what was there. To borrow the words of Jack Dyer, the revered Australian Rules footballer and coach, Siddle was "a good, ordinary player".
This summer, all such categorisations have become obsolete. Under the tutelage of Craig McDermott, Siddle has managed to approximate something of the complete fast bowler. He is moving the ball at high pace, bowling an intelligent and unrelenting line and length, spicing it up with the odd bouncer, and never allowing a natural enmity for batsmen to cloud his judgement of the best ball to deliver. Moreover, Siddle has proven himself to be remarkably fit and durable, slogging through nine Test matches in succession with no perceptible drop in speed or vigour.
On day three in Adelaide, he sliced through India's batting with a combination of all the aforementioned attributes, and his efforts were even more meritorious for the fact that he did it on the flattest pitch of the summer. Thanks to Siddle's nipping out of Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir, the tourists lurched to 4 for 87 by the time Nathan Lyon was asked to probe for a wicket with his off spin, and were destined for a haplessly inadequate first innings no matter how well Virat Kohli played. The best bowler does not always reap the most outstanding analysis but this time Siddle did, and he deserved every one of his five wickets.
They have not always been plucked so easily. Siddle earned his Test cap in India in 2008, called into Ricky Ponting's team due to the elbow injury that was to shorten Stuart Clark's career. He marked his first day as an international cricketer by cracking Gautam Gambhir on the helmet with the first new ball then having Sachin Tendulkar taken at slip with the second. They were two rare moments of ascendance for Australia in the series, which was lost 2-0 to be the formal start of a slide from No. 1 in the world to the mediocrity of mid-table.
Then, Siddle's energy and spirit impressed Ponting, who also delighted by the fact they both shared a love of the same AFL club, North Melbourne - a not insignificant point of common ground in the world of a cricket team on tour. Ponting would come to rely on his fellow Kangaroos supporter over the following year, as Siddle bowled long spells as the steadier counterpoint to the enigmatic Mitchell Johnson, while the likes of Clark and Brett Lee faded out of Test match contention due to injury. He was wholehearted in defeat against South Africa at home, and dangerous in victory over the same team away, before bowling serviceably in England during an Ashes series that the tourists let slip from their fingers.
His improvement was stalled by a back ailment that held Siddle out of Test cricket for most of 2010. He spent part of his time on the way towards a recall in training with another AFL club, Carlton, in an experience that provided him with a greater appreciation of the fitness required at the top end of sporting competition. He won his place back in time for the Ashes, and on the first day of the series brought the Gabba to its feet with a hat-trick. It was about as jubilant as Australia were able to get all last summer. But as the enforcer "Sid Vicious", Siddle's own role seemed to grow increasingly pigeonholed. In Perth he barely bowled a delivery in the batsmen's half of the pitch, and took only one wicket out of a match in which Johnson and Ryan Harris made merry. He bowled well at the MCG in a cause that had already been lost by the batsmen, but by the end of the summer he had been found, alongside Ben Hilfenhaus, to be short of the standard required.
Ponting and Troy Cooley, McDermott's predecessor, appeared to think that Siddle was not capable of much more subtlety than he had already produced, but in the off-season he was encouraged to try for something more ambitious. In line with the rest of Australia's attack, Siddle was urged to bowl fuller in search of swing, and was aided in this by adopting a wider grip down the seam of the ball. His initial adherence to what might be termed the McDermott method was not altogether convincing, and he effectively bowled himself out of the Test team with a poor display in the warm-up match at the start of the Sri Lanka tour. While Ryan Harris, Johnson and Trent Copeland occupied the pace spots in Galle and Kandy, Siddle spent even more time with McDermott, and gradually found the rhythm and swing that was previously beyond him.
An injury to Harris offered a path back, and it was telling that Siddle's first Test wicket on his return to the team in Colombo was a left-hand opening batsman, bowled between bat and pad by a full delivery that straightened through the air - precisely the kind of dismissal that had been missing from Siddle's Test repertoire. Though he experienced some growing pains in his new method in South Africa, with the support of Michael Clarke's adroit captaincy Siddle continued to build towards the peak that he reached against New Zealand and India. His Adelaide wickets were emblematic of the new bowler he is: Sehwag bunting a full delivery back for a return catch, Tendulkar probing at a ball aimed inches outside off stump and moving subtly away to edge to slip, and Gambhir fencing a brutish bouncer to gully.
Later Siddle helped fire out the tail, and held up the ball in acknowledgement of an appreciative Australia Day crowd. There is admiration among the masses as well as the dressing-room for his knockabout persona and unstinting effort. As a character, he fits the everyman description that Dyer had coined years ago, but his bowling has now transcended it. No longer will Siddle be defined by what he cannot do, unless it is to say that in 2012 - so far, at least - he can do nothing wrong.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here