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The Indomitable Ryan Sidebottom
Rejuvenated English Bowler Is New Swing Sensation

By Orin Davidson
March 28th, 2008
When Ryan Sidebottom was reintroduced to the England Test team he was meant to be a mere fill in for an injured team mate less than one year ago.

That decision has since led to a major success story for the Michael Vaughn captained team.

Sidebottom’s exploits over West Indies, India, Sri Lanka, and just this week - New Zealand have made the 30-year old into an overnight sensation.

And in the process the Englishman has made history as probably the first journeyman ever to be transformed into a strike bowler.

England’s comeback 2-1 series victory over New Zealand would not have been achieved without the excellent batting of Andrew Strauss or the brilliant bowling of Monty Panesar especially in the final Test, but more than anything else without Sidebottom’s massive performance, they might well have been ruing another road series loss.

He scalped 24 wickets in the three Tests and when his 53 overall from 13 Tests at a 26 average is taken into consideration you have no doubt who is England’s best bowler at the moment.

With Steve Harmison, the man touted to follow in the footsteps of great English pacemen like Fred Trueman., finding his career floundering to a standstill and the ascension of Matthew Hoggard stunted after injury, Sidebottom is displaying the mental and physical strength and the skill of swing to help keep England’s now tattered Test reputation in shape.

Already Sidebottom is proving that a fast bowling star can be made after 30 years of age. His 13 outings at Test level have already yielded a hat trick, and seven, six and five wicket hauls and a Man of the Series award.
And he has shown the ability to star not only in the seamer friendly conditions of last year when he spearheaded a 3-0 England home blitz of West Indies , but also on the pedestrian strips in Sri Lanka, where he bagged 12 wickets in five ODI’s and the in-between types of New Zealand.

In the process Sidebottom is bringing new meaning to the England’s long held policy of valuing maturity over youth, simply because he can bowl straight and knows to swing the ball both ways.

Not many countries would recall a 29-year old especially one who was discarded six years earlier, given the age factor and the wear and tear associated with fast bowling, especially those enduring the grind of county cricket all their career and the damaged goods label associated with those types.

England have been using old players by other teams standards, from time immemorial, and in some cases with dire consequences most notably the torture 40-year-old Brian Close endured at the hands of a rampaging Michael Holding’s pace, when the batsman was recalled in 1976.

Sidebottom may soon turn out to be their best justification for continuing with the policy.

And he is proving that pace is not everything, but rather that control and swing can be just as effective.

It is a weapon not all fast bowlers pay attention to , but in these days when raw pace is not as effective as it was 30 years ago, given the availability of technological aids like the bowling machine that can train a batsman’s muscle memory to combat thunderbolt deliveries with greater ease, Sidebottom types can be the new standard for pacemen.

Malcolm Marshall, the great West Indian combined pace and swing better than most of his era which forced most of the batting greats that encountered him, to rate the right-armer the best West Indian paceman ever from the long list of super outstanding fast bowlers they produced.

Wasim Akram was the master of reverse swing and became not only Pakistan’s most accomplished fast bowler, but the best of all types from the country.

It helps that Sidebottom is a Yorkshireman, who are considered physically, the toughest of all English types that Truman epitomized, which is allowing the former to withstand the injury bugbear better than his compatriots.

They are not known as coalminers descendants for nothing.

Sidebottom has the added advantage of being a left armer, whose type seem better equipped to generate swing easier, which might explain Akram’s success and others before his time like Alan Davidson, the outstanding Australian, and currently among others, Indian sensations Zaheer Khan and RP Singh.

Even West Indian Pedro Collins, who passed up the current Sri Lanka Test series, for county cricket with Surrey as the latest Kolpak player, has become the Region’s most consistent fast bowling wicket taker in the current Carib Cup and in past competitions whenever he plays..

Not to mention the indomitable Chaminda Vaas who bowled Sri Lanka to victory over West Indies on a deathly slow Providence stadium pitch this week.

They are proving that specialist each way swing bowlers can do well in any conditions and Sidebottom has become the standard bearer, given his rapid ascendancy.

England are not down to oppose Australia anytime in the near future, but had the selectors made an informed decision to select Sidebottom for the team’s tour Down Under two seasons ago, he might well could’ve been the difference between a 5-0 whitewash and a better result.

Proving himself against the world’s number one team will provide an acid Test for him nevertheless.

And from all indications Sidebottom should emerge with flying colors when Australia make their next Ashes series tour in 2009.
Orin Davidson Column Homepage

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