Vicious after Christmas
Peter Siddle's nickname is Vicious and judging by his post-tea spell at the MCG it's an appropriate description. The moniker didn't come from his attitude but from the great Australian tradition of nicknames evolving unpredictably - Siddle, Sid, Sid Vicious, Vicious. None of that mattered to South Africa's batsmen, who struggled through one of the more ferocious spells of the summer as he finished the day with 3 for 24 from 13 overs.
A week ago Siddle looked as likely to revitalise Australia's series as the battling Dale Steyn did to recapture his best form. Both men came good in Melbourne and Siddle can draw inspiration from Steyn, who also took a few games to hit his straps at the start of his Test career.
Siddle was poor in Perth, where he alternated between bowling too short and too full, and he was lucky to keep his place in the side. Ben Hilfenhaus came into the squad and it was not until 24 hours before the match that the selectors decided to give Siddle another chance. They hoped he would be boosted by playing his first international at his home ground the MCG, where the drop-in pitch suits his style of hitting the wicket hard.
"There were a lot of players that could have missed out [after the WACA loss]," Siddle said. "You always doubt when you're the new kid on the block and I'd [had] a disappointing effort out there in Perth so I didn't know it was going to happen. I found out Christmas morning and it was a good thrill, a good Chrissy present."
Playing at home did lift him, as did the faith shown by Ricky Ponting in entrusting Siddle with the second over. Immediately the energy and belief that were lacking at the WACA were evident. His first ball was 145kph, he rattled Neil McKenzie with a short one and took his off stump with the fifth ball of the over. A spontaneous roar erupted for the local man, who was desperate to perform in front of friends and family.
His first spell of 1 for 11 from six overs was impressive, especially while Brett Lee struggled at the other end. The show really started when Siddle returned after tea. Again he struck in the first over of his spell, enticing Graeme Smith to drive a wide ball that was edged behind. Smith had 62 and the jubilant leaping and wide smiles from Siddle's team-mates proved how important the breakthrough was.
With every ball that beat the bat or cramped the batsman the noise from the crowd increased, as did Siddle's confidence. Advertising hoardings were drummed as he ran in, as if he was on a hat-trick every delivery. A day that had threatened to meander had become irresistible viewing.
"The crowd was good," he said. "It always gives you a bit of confidence when they're cheering you on and you get that wicket early on. It was an amazing feeling just hearing them cheer, it was excellent."
Siddle continually nudged the 150kph mark - while Lee headed south into the low 140s - hit a good length and attacked the stumps. They were traits that were missing from his game in Perth, as was a tight partner at the other end - here Nathan Hauritz leaked less than a newly fixed tap.
"I was a bit disappointed [in Perth], I probably didn't bowl as aggressive as I would have liked and with not as much pace," Siddle said. "Today I wanted to get out there and show them I could bowl quick and bowl tight lines and work hard."
He tended too short later in the spell but his work was done. He proved to Ponting that in an attack where Lee continued to struggle - his lines were wrong and he bled 68 runs from 13 overs - Johnson is not the only man who can be turned to for an impact spell. It's a useful thing for a captain to have.
Over the past year Graeme Smith has had that with Steyn. Unlike Siddle, who is in his third Test and is still learning, Steyn came into this series weighed down by the reputation of being the leading wicket-taker in Tests in 2008. It is not a bad burden to carry but it affected Steyn in Perth, where, like Siddle, he battled to find the right length.
At the MCG Steyn resembled the man who has terrorised batsmen the world over in the past 12 months. The strongest winds at the Perth Test in a couple of decades had affected his power there but here he was energetic and constantly thinking.
Against the left-handers Simon Katich and Michael Hussey, on the first day, he had come around the wicket and picked them off by using the angle. He did the same to Johnson today, darting a quick ball in that was edged onto the stumps. Against the right-handers he found some outswing and added Lee and Hauritz to his tally before lunch to finish with 5 for 87.
Most importantly he made the batsmen play, as did Siddle. Energy and accuracy are hard to beat as key fast-bowling traits. Siddle needs only to look to Steyn, who also has swing in his armoury, to discover what a young fast man can achieve in a short space of time.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo