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June 17, 2007
His comeback Test ended with eight wickets in the innings rout at Headingley, but the cry was that he would be a one-trick pony who'd struggle if the ball didn't swing. He pounded in at Old Trafford to show he has learnt the art of adapting to different conditions and now, with cloud cover back at Chester-le-Street, has reverted to his traditional art. Three wickets on the third day completed his first five-wicket haul in Tests and carried his series tally to 16 at 17.18.
"It's a nice feeling and a great honour and something I wouldn't have dreamed about a month and a half ago," said Sidebottom. "Maybe they scored 50 too many but I couldn't have asked for anymore. I was a bit lucky with a couple of the wickets, but sometimes you bowl spells where you don't get wickets and others where you don't bowl so well and do."
Sidebottom's greatest asset is his ability to make the ball move both ways, something he has gained since his first Test in 2001. He set up Denesh Ramdin with a series of deliveries swinging into the pads before pushing two across him, the second of which took the edge and flew to second slip. England have tried a number of left-arm seamers since John Lever, the last major threat in the style, left the Test scene in 1986 - such luminaries as Mark Ilott, Paul Taylor, Alan Mullally, Simon Brown and Mike Smith - and their major fault has been the lack of a ball to coming back into the right hander. Although Sidebottom's success has to be qualified by the quality of opposition he has shown the skill to keep players guessing. Even West Indies' stand-out batsmen Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Dwayne Bravo have been tested by his movement.
Sidebottom's evolution has not just been in his bowling, but in his attitude and demeanour in the middle. It was easy at Headingley - put the ball on a length and West Indies would either miss it or nick it - but subsequent success has been more hard-earned, even in favourable conditions at The Riverside. The aggression he has brought to his bowling, on the suggestion on Allan Donald, has resulted in him roaring at the batsmen, himself, or his team-mates after a delivery. When he let out a primeval roar following a delivery to Ramdin, his former Yorkshire team-mate Matthew Hoggard could barely hide his amusement. It probably wasn't the Sidebottom he knew. "We always a bit of a chuckle together when we were at Yorkshire are just try to enjoy the occasion," said Sidebottom. "I think I shouted 'miss it' so he just had a laugh."
|If you'd said I'd be opening bowler for England with Hoggy I probably would have laughed|
The irony is that Sidebottom owes his second chance to Hoggard's injury he picked up at Lord's. Suddenly England needed another steady-eddy, to counter the scatter-guns of Steve Harmison and Liam Plunkett, and went for the solid pro. Three Tests later they were opening the bowling together, sending down 55 of England's 97 overs, and taking seven wickets between them. It's a partnership that has a productive history; they shared 53 wickets when Yorkshire won the Championship in 2001 even though each only played half the campaign, but Sidebottom never believed it would end up in England colours. "If you'd said I'd be opening bowler for England with Hoggy I probably would have laughed. It's been a long time since we opened together but we are good mates."
Their double-act provided England their first three wickets of the day and both spent significant periods of time with Matt Prior stood up to the stumps. It isn't a sight you would often associate with Test opening bowlers, but the pressure created led to a tough morning session where 79 runs came from 27 overs. The unexpected pairing could evolve further, too, over the coming week.
England's one-day squad is due to be named after the A-team (sorry, Lions) match against West Indies at Worcester on Thursday. There are a handful of young bowlers, including Stuard Broad, who the selectors want to have a look at, while other candidates will appear in the Friends Provident semi-finals the day before. However, the folly of picking inexperienced performers for one-day cricket was exposed during the World Cup when Liam Plunkett and Sajid Mahmood came under regular assault. With Hoggard and Sidebottom the captain (not yet confirmed as Michael Vaughan) would at least know what he was getting. Sidebottom holds a domestic one-day economy rate of 4.26 and has also held his own in the tough Twenty20 world. Hoggard has previously struggled with the white ball, costing 5.29 runs-per-over, but without Andrew Flintoff it seems a waste to not consider such experience.
That is for the near future, as is the challenge of bowling against India's strong middle order in the second half of the summer when the pitches will be flatter and the batsmen of a higher standard. But we already know there is more about Hoggard than needing a green-top to take his wickets - success in Nagpur and Adelaide proved that - and Sidebottom has shown enough in these last three Tests to suggest he can follow a similar path. He has grasped his return to the Test scene with both hands and wants to keep hold of it for a long time to come.