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As Australia grafted for wickets, Peter Siddle restated his immense value to the team
December 8, 2013
Twenty-four hours after Mitchell Johnson wrought havoc of biblical proportions at Adelaide Oval, 33,754 spectators and 11 Australia cricketers were reminded why such bursts are to be cherished in their rarity. Most Test cricket is far more attritional in nature, gains hard-won through hours of planning, application, agitation and the odd helping of fortune.
Johnson's incisions had cut the game open, but England would not allow their final 10 wickets to be extracted anywhere near as swiftly on what was now a dying pitch. Despite a brief reprise of Johnson's sudden impact when Alastair Cook hooked his third ball to fine leg, and the most unexpected gift of Ian Bell's wicket from a Steven Smith full toss, the major themes of the day were hard graft and ill temper.
The scant assistance offered by the surface was epitomised by the frustrated glare of Ryan Harris, who so far has only one wicket in the match to show for more than 30 overs of typical vigour. Nathan Lyon has found spin but less of the bounce or rhythm that so aided him in Brisbane. Even Johnson was taken down a notch or two from his earlier heroics, the slightest drop in pace from day three to day four granting England's batsmen a valuable fraction of extra time to play him - Matt Prior even hooking in front of square in the day's final over.
On both sides, the frustrations of the situation contributed to several ill-tempered conversations. Australia, so close to victory, did not take kindly at all to being held up. England, committed to obstructing their opponents' progress in whatever ways they could, returned serve. Joe Root, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin and Johnson all were involved at various times, including at the end of play. So menacing in his silence the day before, Johnson seemed fractionally less dangerous for having to resort to verbals.
It was decidedly handy in this atmosphere of war minus the shooting for the captain, Michael Clarke, to call on Peter Siddle for his most significant spells of the series. Across seven consecutive Ashes Tests of wildly fluctuating results, moods and conditions, Siddle has been a constant presence, his performances seldom gaining attention but always maintaining a standard Clarke can rely on. Most of all, Siddle has been the man most likely to dispose of Kevin Pietersen, and by doing so twice in Adelaide he has more than earned his match fee.
On-field temperature rises again
The battles between Siddle and Pietersen served as a microcosm of the way the two days developed. In the first innings Siddle was brought on by Clarke for the specific task of constricting and defeating Pietersen, something he did not have to wait long for. Pietersen's disregard for field settings has at times brought moments of high class, as his wrists pierce the tiniest gaps between catching men. But this time, as in Brisbane, his pick-up from around off stump found one of the two midwickets Clarke had posted. Like the rest of England's first innings, it was a wicket sold too cheaply.
On day four, however, Pietersen did fight his urge to whip through the leg side. Siddle tried alternating balls wide of the stumps with the odd one angled in, and also varied his approach to the crease to create an angle encouraging the stroke. But Pietersen's bat continued to come through straight, defensive dead bats leaving the bowler to ponder another option. Pietersen strode to 53, helping himself to three sixes, but was then undone by Siddle's subtle movement either way, dragging on a ball moving back at him with his bat hung slightly wider in expectation of a mild curve towards the slips.
Siddle has now defeated Pietersen five times in the past seven Tests, and on nine occasions overall, a victory for the bowling tradesman over the batting aristocrat. "I love the challenge of bowling against a player of his experience and talent," Siddle said. "He's been a star player of Test cricket and I enjoy it. I try to keep patient, bowl in the right areas and been lucky enough, a few chop-ons always help. It was nice to get him today. Pup's always told us be ready for certain players. He's got ideas of who we want to bowl to, so at different stages we have. You know you do bowl better at some players and I think it does work."
The wicket of Michael Carberry had been collected earlier, courtesy of a short ball and a fine catch by Lyon in the deep. Siddle's wicket-taking trailed off towards the end of the previous Ashes series but his value to the team is well understood by everyone in it. "I was disappointed with how I finished off in England but that's done and dusted, don't have to worry about that now," he said. "We're going well as a team, I'm happy with how I'm bowling.
"As a unit we're bowling strong, and that's what we're all about. Mitch has had all the success up to now, but I think it's been the work from Ryano, myself, Nath, Watto, everyone involved that has built that pressure up, and we've got the wickets at his end. That makes it a lot easier for him if we can build the pressure and he can come on in short bursts at them."
The value of the collective is something Siddle has stressed many times before, notably during the 2011-12 summer when many of his best stints at the bowling crease against India went unrewarded, before a starburst of wickets in Adelaide gave him handsome final figures. Walking off the same oval on a day when the Australians had to scrap more thoroughly with England's batsmen than at any other time of the series so far, they had reason to value Siddle, a man for the hard occasion.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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