Shades of Hughes in abrasive Siddle
Merv Hughes watched from the Nursery End as Peter Siddle spent his first day at Lord's preparing for his next engagement as Australia's Ashes enforcer. The two could not look more different: Hughes is a block tower with a handlebar moustache that seems to have grown longer for this trip; Siddle is fitter and leaner than Hughes ever was and can barely grow stubble.
Hughes is now an Australian selector but many of his on-field qualities live on through Siddle, a 24-year-old fast bowler from country Victoria. Terrorising England batsmen, verbally and with the ball, comes high on their life's aims and the pair has spoken regularly during Siddle's career. Siddle's bowling was particularly Merv-like in Cardiff where his list of achievements included three bruises to Graeme Swann in the same over, a shoulder-barging incident with Stuart Broad and short, sharp rhetorical questions to England's batsmen.
There were also three wickets, but it was the way he roughed up the opposition and failed to tire that were the biggest reminders of Hughes, who marked English grounds with his heavy boots and batsmen's minds with his deliveries during the 1989 and 1993 tours. If send-offs hadn't been banned in the quest for good behaviour Siddle would probably be pointing and spitting batsmen towards the pavilion. He is more polite than Hughes was, but is not afraid to be abrasive on the field and revealing off it.
While Cricket Australia have suggested to the players that they sledge less to improve their status as role models, the message didn't make it to Siddle's inbox. "If it was sent I don't think we received it," he said before a wide, rounded smile appeared. He's been nicknamed 'Sid Vicious' since his days at the Academy, but promises he is laid-back when he's not bowling.
"They reckon I go a bit fiery and the eyes go red when I get going," he said. "That's what gets me going out in the field. That's when I reckon I'm bowling at my best, when I get fired up, charging in. The sooner it happens, the better it is for the team."
In South Africa he and Dale Steyn traded bouncers like primary-schoolers do sports cards and the sight of the local hero being treated so badly turned the crowd against Siddle. He loved it. Melbourne's Bay 13 spent summers chanting "Hadlee's a w***er" and Siddle has heard spectators shout a similar line ever since.
His parents Steve and Allison heard the cry among the cheers for their boy as they sat in the stands in Cardiff. They are a woodchopping family and are not the sort of people who would have stuck their fingers in their ears. When Siddle clipped Paul Collingwood's edge on the final afternoon his mum and dad were high-fiving their neighbours.
"They don't usually have to pass them [the comments] on to me - I can usually hear most of them," Siddle said. "[My parents are] fine about it all. I copped a lot of grief in South Africa. It's just something you've got to get used to. No doubt the English hear it when they come to Australia. It's just the way I play my game, so I've got to get used to copping the grief."
Siddle walked into Lord's for the first time on Tuesday and the place was still exciting him after training. "It's amazing," he said. "Growing up there were two Tests I wanted to play in. As a Victorian it was always the MCG on the Boxing Day Test and I got that opportunity last year. The other one was an Ashes series playing at Lord's."
He spoke to Glenn McGrath at Worcester about playing at the home of cricket and has already picked out the Pavilion End to mark his run, preferring to bring the ball back in with help from the terrain. "He gave us a few little ideas," Siddle said. "The main focus was the slope and how to get used to that - either you're getting pulled downhill or you're running the other way. You've got to get used to those things, but there's not much to it."
Hughes played two Tests at Lord's, taking 10 wickets, and will also chat to the team before the toss. Siddle already knows how Hughes feels about the Ashes contest. "I spent plenty of time with him growing up through the junior ranks and all that kind of stuff," he said. "He's good to have a laugh and joke with. He's good fun. He loved [playing against England]. He loved the Ashes series, the fight and the contest." After only five days, Siddle does too.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo