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Sidebottom returns in some style!

Prior to his England recall, Ryan Sidebottom had been thought upon as a solid county professional, but since his return to the national side, that viewpoint has been altered due to a series of determined and exceptional displays.

Sidebottom made his England debut at the age of 23 against Pakistan at Lords. His initial inclusion was aided by the fact he had enjoyed a good trip to the Caribbean with the England ‘A’ side in the previous winter, and injuries to Yorkshire team-mates Matthew Hoggard and Craig White boosting his chances of a debut. However, it was the pairing of Andrew Caddick and Darren Gough that stole the headlines in bowling Pakistan out twice, for 203 and 179, taking 16 wickets between them. The greenhorn that was Sidebottom remained on the periphery of the game, finishing with match figures of 20-2-64-0.

He was then cast aside for six years before he appeared for England again in Test cricket. Similarly, he sat out the One-Day international scene for a shade under six years following his debut against Zimbabwe in October 2001.

Despite this, Ryan Sidebottom has quickly re-invented himself as England’s go-to bowler, filling the void left by the injury stricken Andrew Flintoff. Any time of day, any match situation, regardless of how many overs he has completed, captain Michael Vaughan has full confidence in throwing ‘Siddy’ the ball to either force the breakthrough, make best use of the new ball or simply tie an end up. All of which he does equally effectively and seems to thrive on being asked to complete the hard yards.

During the most recent series in New Zealand, Sidebottom was the one man to constantly stand up and be counted, and the man of the series award that he received was just rewards for his outstanding efforts. It was a series England were expected to win comfortably, it did not turn out that way and it could quite conceivably have been much worse, but for Sidebottom. He took a staggering 24 wickets in the three Tests, each one worth 17.08.

When Sidebottom returned to county cricket following his first Test appearance, it was his willingness to continue improving his game, learning all about his own game and fully appreciating and understanding his own style. He refused to let the disappointment of not appearing for England affect his performances for Yorkshire and more recently Nottinghamshire. If Sidebottom was not ripping out county line-ups and demanding re-selection by sheer volume of wickets, then he was displaying a professionalism to get his head down, remaining disciplined and above all maintaining a consistency that is designed to catch the eye over a period of time.

During the period of when Sidebottom received his first England cap and when he collected his second, his first class record was exceptional. He picked up 235 wickets at an average of 25.39 with an excellent economy, conceding only 2.85 runs per over. Yet despite these eye-catching stats, it still came as somewhat of a surprise to many when he was offered the chance to revive his Test career. Now the question is why did it take the management so long to give him his second cap, which is testament to the impact he has made.

Former England coach Duncan Fletcher always favoured a bowler with the propensity to hurl a ball down at extreme pace, an ingredient he deemed vital to trouble the very best batsmen. It was the potential to bowl out and out quick that kept Sidebottom in the shade that is county cricket. Although he will never be likely to bowl at 90mph, his pace is sharp enough to keep the batsman wary of a short ball.

It was Fletcher that gave Sidebottom his debut all those years ago, and at the time seemed keen to give him a run at international level, indicating they will find out whether he has the right mentality over the next couple of Tests and that he believed him to have the potential to be an effective Test bowler. One Test and he was never to be selected again under Fletcher, not quite the mental test Sidebottom was hoping for.

He was finally rewarded for his domestic form with a return to the England side against West Indies in May 2007, again, ironically, it was Hoggard that was ruled out through injury. The game was at his old stomping ground, Headingley, and was being potentially viewed as a brief Test return for Sidebottom, brought in to deliver in favourable and familiar conditions. Eight wickets in the game ensured that was not the last we had seen of this likeable, aggressive and easily recognisable Yorkshireman (he is 6’4″ with a well renowned floppy hair-do).

The skill he has attained in swinging the ball back into the right handers has broadened his options of wicket taking, keeping the batsman watchful in assessing if the ball is to naturally slant across him with the angle or if it is to swing late back into his pads, inevitably causing moments of confusion. The statistics show of the 53 wickets he has currently taken in Tests, 16 of them have been by way of LBW, proving the difficulty in adjusting your shot when his inswinger is working well. Only Dale Steyn has taken more wickets than Sidebottom in the last 10 months, as regards seam/swing bowlers worldwide.

Also apparent is the unfortunate number of dropped chances off his bowling, not just from Matt Prior (who has been the chief perpetrator), which has consistently prompted the “Oh, I’ll have to do it myself” look.

It is not only in Test cricket where he has excelled, his effectiveness has extended to the shorter formats also, where he has snared 20 victims since returning, at 21.35.

Very rarely has a bowler endured such an extended period on the international sidelines before returning to the highest level and within 12 months has become seemingly indispensable from the England attack. New Zealand return in May determined not to be tormented to such an extent again, yet the series against South Africa in the summer may prove to be Sidebottom’s most difficult assignment to date.

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