Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 2nd day December 27, 2010

Siddle's efforts clouded in controversy

Peter Siddle was Australia's everywhere man, including a brief stint as a self-appointed on-field spokesman, as the hosts tried but failed to stay in touch with England at the MCG. He was part of all five dismissals on the second day, gaining three wickets and collecting two catches, and was initially the lead protagonist in an argument with Aleem Dar over whether Kevin Pietersen should have been given out caught behind.

Siddle assumed the role of senior pro instead of 21-Test student in the initial negotiations with Dar after Australia's referral for an inside edge had been dismissed due to a lack of evidence. Having over-reacted in the middle, with a series of arm waving and arguing with Dar before Ponting took over the debate, Siddle hid behind a series of "no comments" after play, looking equally as silly as he did during the original incident occurred. He briefly expanded to say of the exchange that "it's just cricket".

It was an eventful day for the earthy resident Victorian, who appeals more to the punters in Bay 13 than the Melbourne Cricket Club members. Siddle knows his audience too, turning to the general admission seats and his team-mates to celebrate his successes with his wild roars and over-played gestures.

An hour after stumps Siddle would not explain why there was confusion over the Pietersen decision, with a Cricket Australia official saying they did not want to jeopardise a potential hearing. Brad Haddin was the only fielder to hear the nick and he convinced Ponting to contest the appeal. It looked obvious to everyone with a television replay that there was no inside edge, but Siddle and Ponting sensed injustice after watching the same footage on the big screen. Ponting received a fine of 40% of his match fee for his protests.

Siddle's logic during his press conference became so muddled that he said the players should look to Ponting for inspiration as they try to save the match over the next three days. Ponting has scored 93 runs in four Tests, has a broken finger, and finally cracked publicly under the pressure to avoid losing an Ashes series for the third time. He argued with Dar over two overs during the Pietersen episode and also had grumpy exchanges with the batsman and Tony Hill, the other umpire.

"He is the same man, a strong character," Siddle said of Ponting. "He always works hard, backs you up to the hilt and leads by example. That is what we go by."

A better example of how to play at the moment would come from taking an interest in England, who lead by 346 runs and still have five first-innings wickets in hand. Without Siddle, who performed extremely well whenever he had the ball, the situation would be even worse. His 3 for 58 from 26 overs provided the side with penetration and a crucial element of control, but despite all of the heroics Australia are still a speck in England's rear-view mirror.

Siddle provided a spark on the second morning by removing Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss within 13 runs of the resumption. The delivery to dismiss Strauss was a brute, with the batsman edging the rising ball to gully after trying to steer to the legside. Australia's problem was that the wickets didn't come on the opening afternoon, when England had already careered past their first-innings 98.

Siddle wasn't bowling at the time of the Pietersen controversy so Ponting cleverly redirected his fire and was rewarded almost immediately. Bowling around 140 kph, he got one to stay low and had Pietersen lbw for 51. While the delivery provided some much-needed cheer, it also caused more doubts for the batsmen who will be charged with the second-innings rescue.

At fine-leg Siddle was also highly effective. Instead of regaining his breath in between overs he caught Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell when they hooked carelessly at Mitchell Johnson before tea. The lunging, low take of Bell was particularly athletic and Siddle's string of useful contributions showed his value to the side. He just has to stay involved in the right way, instead of jumping into arguments on behalf of his team-mates.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo