Australia's vegetarian fast bowler Peter Siddle has chewed up and spat out the suggestion that the absence of meat from his diet was the reason he was unable to recover from his Adelaide exertions in time to play in the pivotal Perth Test against South Africa.
As he prepared to resume as the leader of the hosts' attack in the Test series against Sri Lanka, starting in Hobart on Friday, Siddle flatly rejected the view - proffered by Dennis Lillee, among others - that meat was essential to the diet of a fast bowler. Siddle backed up his rebuttal with the correct observation that his ability to maintain high pace and accuracy for long periods has in fact been helped by the lifestyle change, which he made earlier this year.
"I struggled to bowl over 50 overs [before becoming vegetarian] so, to bowl 64, I think that's an improvement," Siddle said at Bellerive Oval. "So I'm probably in a better place than I ever was. For people to say that's the problem and that's the reason why [I withdrew], they're the ones kidding themselves. They're not the ones out there having to do it and having to go through it. To still be bowling 140 kmph in my 64th over at the end of the fifth day in a Test match, that probably shows the improvements."
Siddle's pre-season admission that he had foresworn meat has been the cause of some mirth among those who harbour cliched views about the dietry habits of fast bowlers, even though he made the change with plenty of support from Cricket Australia's dieticians and support staff. The team performance manager Pat Howard has previously pointed to the decorated examples of the triathlete Dave Scott, the AFL footballer Brett Kirk and Martina Navratilova's tennis mastery as examples of vegetarian success in elite sport.
But Lillee's comments to ABC radio during the Perth Test fuelled Siddle's irritation that nearly halfway through the summer he is having to justify his choice of diet. "In India [at MRF Pace Foundation], our guys have got to eat protein even if they are considered vegetarian - they have got to eat fish and chicken," Lillee had said. "I think you have to rebuild muscle after you have had a 50-over Test. I know there is more to it than clouds and grass but I have not seen too many (vegetarian fast bowlers) survive. [Colin] Croft tried it for 18 months and couldn't do it. Sidds is trying it and good luck to him.''
Irrespective of the vegetarian debate, Siddle is satisfied that he is ready to push himself again in Hobart, after making the call in Perth that a tight hamstring and general fatigue meant he would not have been up to the task. "At the time we made the right decision. It's one I didn't want to have to make," he said. "It was just going to be the safest option. We didn't want another circumstance like Adelaide that put us more out of the game."
Part of Siddle's own planning for this summer and the tours of India and England that lie beyond it was his decision not to take part in the hustle and bustle of the Twenty20 BBL. "At the moment I didn't want to play in the BBL," Siddle said. "It was part of wanting to concentrate on Tests, the same thing I spoke about earlier in the year leading into the Test matches, I wanted to miss the one-day games and concentrate on the red ball. Just with the 12 months we've got coming up from now, it is such a big time for us as a Test team. The best thing for me was to focus on that, try and bowl as many overs as I can throughout trainings, in games and get the body ready and raring to go for Test cricket. That was my plan and that's the one I want to stick with."
The call to avoid the shortest format may ultimately prove far more significant to Siddle's success over the next 12 months than whether or not he has any chicken with his stir-fry.