Top Performer - Ryan Sidebottom

Glowing in the cold

Jenny Thompson has this week's top performer - Ryan Sidebottom, who took eight wickets on his Test return

Jenny Thompson

May 30, 2007

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Hair today ... Ryan Sidebottom grabbed eight wickets on his Test return © Getty Images
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Six years in the wilderness and the knowledge you're being picked specifically for one Test can't make you feel especially at home, even if you are at your old ground, Headingley. Throw in the fact that the last time you played a Test was a one-off, and how would you feel to be Ryan Sidebottom? Pretty darn good as it happens.

He was beaming broadly from the moment he was surprisingly recalled to England for his first Test since 2001, included ahead of the centrally contracted James Anderson and Sajid Mahmood. Injury to Matthew Hoggard gave his debut chance - he bowled earnestly but without a wicket against Pakistan - and it was for the same reason he was included this time.

The selectors had believed he could offer a control woefully lacking from England's pace attack, and that his left-arm swing would add variety, not to mention threatening a vulnerable West Indies. Crucially, Sidebottom believed, too: England's revolving door may have flung him callously back to county cricket for six years, but in that time he matured, learned his game inside out and was ready to come in from the cold. In 2005, he took 50 first-class wickets to help Nottinghamshire to the Championship title for the first time in 18 years.

He was ready for whatever West Indies batsmen could throw at him which, a man down owing to Ramnaresh Sarwan's mid-match injury and without the injured Shivnarine Chanderpaul, wasn't much.

England's warm welcome back will have helped too: despite the cold conditions, he found a cosy glow in a new coach, a new ethos and, finally, his first victim. He didn't let a few wayward early balls trouble him; his head stayed up; he enjoyed it, and his first Test wicket finally arrived when he trapped Chris Gayle.

A second followed, Daren Ganga falling the same way, then a third and a fourth in bowling Dwayne Bravo and having Corey Collymore caught in the slips. From having no Test wickets, he suddenly had 4 for 42. More was to come the same day: Ganga again, lbw again, and then the nightwatchman Daren Powell. All the while he maintained the same honest discipline, a contrast to Liam Plunkett and Steve Harmison.

Two days later, he ended the second innings with 4 for 44, as West Indies followed on, eventually losing by a record innings and 283 runs. His face ruddy with the effort, sweating curls sticking to his face, he was glowing throughout, both inwardly and outwardly.

Prior to the match he had seemed destined to join his dad, Arnie, in the one-cap wonder bracket. Senior Sidebottom was called up in 1985 aged 31 - by his own admission he was "well past my sell-by date". Ryan, by contrast, played his first match when 21, but he matured while on the shelf, waiting in hope rather than expectation for the call.

When it came it was, in footballing parlance, an inspired substitution. Or at least that was how it had seemed to some. To others it was no surprise, not least to Nottinghamshire's director, Mick Newell, who has enjoyed Sidebottom's services for the last three years since he arrived from Yorkshire.

"We operate a rotation policy," Newell explained, "but I tend to make him exempt because he likes to play every week." How refreshing an attitude, particularly at county level. At country level he will be dying to make it a third cap, whether or not he will be able to wodge it on top of the barnet.

But while the super sub may get a sustained run - gloomy looming doubts over Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff suggest he could be good for Old Trafford and Chester-le-Street - he won't be looking further than that, not even to India in England. In the meantime, though, he will be basking in the glow of a red-hot performance during the chilliest Test ever.

Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo

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