New Zealand v England, 3rd Test, Napier, 2nd day March 23, 2008

Swinging it the right way

Ryan Sidebottom basks in the glory of his first seven-wicket haul in Test cricket © Getty Images
Ever since he earned his Test recall at Headingley back in May last year, Ryan Sidebottom has made a habit of surprising people. On this tour of New Zealand, however, he seems to have surprised even himself. "Every dog has his day," was how he modestly brushed aside his latest team-carrying achievement, but such admirable self-deprecation doesn't quite tell the full story.

Sidebottom has now galloped to 23 wickets in the series, including five-wicket hauls in each of the three Tests. The decisive innings of the tour is still to come and if, as England now expects, it results in a victory for the visitors, there's no question where the plaudits will reside.

"This is most definitely the best day's cricket I've had," Sidebottom said, and he's had a fair few high-days to pick from on this trip. He'd never taken a hat-trick at any level until he scalped the New Zealand middle-order in the first Test in Hamilton; he'd never taken ten wickets in a first-class match until he wrapped up the tail later on in that same innings, and he'd never bowled unchanged from lunch through to tea until this afternoon's marathon wrecking session. By the time he'd polished off the New Zealand innings, he'd surpassed his previous best figures in all first-class cricket - the 7 for 97 he took for Yorkshire against Derbyshire in 2003.

"When you're taking wickets the adrenalin keeps you going," Sidebottom said. All innings long he had the raucous support of the Barmy Army on the hill behind him, a factor that undoubtedly helped as he surged to the crease and probed the weaknesses in New Zealand's fragile batting line-up. "If you put the maidens together, and you've got the crowd behind you, it keeps you going," he said. "A couple of early wickets help you settle into your bowling, but ever since the Sri Lanka tour, I haven't changed anything. I don't bowl 88-90mph, but if it seams or swings, I've got a chance. Some days you get your nicks, some days you don't."

Sidebottom's incredible success has cemented his place as the leader of England's attack. He was famously discarded by Duncan Fletcher after a solitary Test in 2001, and left on the sidelines until an injury to Matthew Hoggard earned him an unexpected recall six years later. The factor that swayed England's new coach, Peter Moores, was Sidebottom's sheer weight of wickets - 50-plus in consecutive seasons for Nottinghamshire in 2005 and 2006. With the wicket of Brendon McCullum midway through the afternoon collapse, he equalled that feat inside his first full year of Test cricket. Quite some achievement for a man who seemed destined to be a one-cap wonder.

Sidebottom seems unaffected by the trappings of his new-found - and somewhat belated - fame. He's getting married to his fiancee, Kate, next month, and he'll still be living at home in Nottingham with two cats. "My life's not really changed," he said. "People can't miss me with my dodgy barnet, but everybody's been really great, coming up and saying 'well done'"

"These past 12 months have just gone so quick," said Sidebottom, the secret of whose success has been his determination to take one ball, one over, one Test at a time. "Maybe I got written off after my first Test back," he said, after he was selected at his former home ground of Headingley to face West Indies in a damp early-season contest. "They said I was 'a horses for courses selection', that word I don't really like very much. But then I've been in for one game, then one after another. They've shown faith, Mooresy and the others. I just keep trying to take wickets."

With three souvenir match balls now rolling around in his kit bag, it's fairly obvious how and why he's become the new darling of the Barmy Army. Their catchy chant, to the tune of "Robin Hood", doubtless whirls through his brain in bed at night, but Sidebottom seems unaffected by the trappings of his new-found - and somewhat belated - fame. He's getting married to his fiancee, Kate, next month, and he'll still be living at home in Nottingham with two cats. "My life's not really changed," he said. "People can't miss me with my dodgy barnet, but everybody's been really great, coming up and saying 'well done'."

His modesty is disarming, but genuine. He was eager to share the praise for England's fightback with his partner, Stuart Broad, whose 3 for 54 was also a Test-best, to go along with his vital 42 in the first innings. "I can't praise Broady enough," Sidebottom said. "When someone at the other end is keeping it tight and taking wickets, that makes my job easier."

Although Sidebottom insists on keeping his approach simple, he did mix up his methods briefly, and with some success, when - at the behest of his captain, Michael Vaughan - he decided to bowl around the wicket to the obdurate opener, Jamie How. It was a plan that was first formulated during the summer series against India, when Sidebottom's fellow left-armers, RP Singh and Zaheer Khan, altered their angles with great success.

Sidebottom celebrates another landmark as he dismisses Brendon McCullum to claim his 50th Test wicket © Getty Images

"As a left-armer there was no reason why I couldn't do it," Sidebottom said. "It's something I've never really done in my career, and I need to work on it, but with the change of angles and position, not a lot of batters see left-armers from around the wicket. It's a little difficult and new to them." This particular dog wasn't just having his day, he was willing to learn new tricks as well.

How, speaking on behalf of the shellshocked New Zealand dressing room, cut a bewildered figure when he tried to work out just what had gone wrong in their innings. They had been easing along at 103 for 1 until Sidebottom struck to remove Stephen Fleming for 59, and thereafter there was no salvation for their performance. "Lunch was good, the salmon was good," he deadpanned. "But apart from that, it was just some really bad batting. That's all that can be said."

On the subject of Sidebottom, however, he was more revealing. "Obviously he swings it, but his main weapon is he comes in all day, hard at you," How said. "He's a big-hearted bowler, and I'm sure he wouldn't mind me saying that, but that's his weapon. He gives you nothing and comes in hard. He bowls some good balls, nothing out of the ordinary, but when his confidence is up like that, he's quite hard to stop. We were aware of that, all series we've seen it. But we've played him a lot better than we did today."

How, however, warned that England's work was not done yet - and he should know. It was on this very ground, during the recent one-day series, that he struck a magnificent 86-ball hundred to help New Zealand tie a thrilling and high-scoring contest. "We can chase 340 in 50 overs out there, so we back ourselves to put things right in our own heads, and make up for this poor performance," he said. "There were too many soft dismissals today, and a lot of batsmen are not too happy in our shed, but we'll come back stronger."

It's safe to assume, however, that Sidebottom will maintain precisely the same disciplines that have carried him so far already in his England comeback. If New Zealand want to atone for today's errors, they'll have to get through him first.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo