James Lawton: Birthday boy Siddle presents Ponting with the gift he so desired
If Ponting had itemised his needs down to the last detail, had them typed up and handed to Siddle, he could not have been more perfectly satisfied
Friday 26 November 2010
England cannot plead they had not been warned that the news of the death of Australian cricket – or at least the form of it which dominated the world's game for so long – may just have been a shade premature.
Matthew Hayden, one of the cornerstones of the team that enforced such a ferociously competitive ethos, was quite specific. Beware of the wounded Australian cricketer, he declared on the eve of the first Test here, and yesterday the kind of man capable of the gut-wrenching effort Hayden had in mind announced himself.
Peter Siddle did rather more than achieve the first Ashes hat-trick by an Australian since Shane Warne performed the mystical trick in Melbourne 16 years ago.
He gave his captain, the great batsman Ricky Ponting, the one thing he most craved as he contemplated the bleak possibility that he might be leading his nation to a third series defeat in the historic contest.
"You can't turn on the intensity we need like you can a switch," Ponting said. "It just has to come from exceptional effort – and performance."
If Ponting had itemised his needs down to the last detail, had them typed up and handed them to the new hero from a country town in Victoria, he could not have been more perfectly satisfied.
Here anyway was the inventory of glory ticked off by Siddle, who was celebrating his 26th birthday after the most difficult of career-threatening years, in his new role as the redeemer of the Australian cricket spirit.
First he would have to cut down an impressive England response to the shock of losing captain Andrew Strauss to the third ball of the day delivered by Ben Hilfenhaus.
He could best do this by getting rid of Kevin Pietersen just as he seemed to be growing into the kind of free-wheeling, shoot-out-the-lights mood that defines the best of his extraordinary talent.
Then he could further erode the heart of the English batting by removing the one man to share with Pietersen serious resistance to the Australian onslaught in the humiliating whitewash here four years ago, the dogged Paul Collingwood.
That would have been maybe enough to push back the criticism that raged round Siddle's head when he was preferred to Doug Bollinger, a man considered to have wider talents, including a greater capacity to swing the ball and whose case was angrily advanced by the legendary Australian shock trooper Jeff Thomson.
Siddle, though, had scarcely begun his extraordinary mission. The hat-trick came when England had weathered the worst blows and, with Alastair Cook batting with splendid obduracy and Ian Bell with nothing less than real beauty, had stabilised to the point of contemplating a match-winning score.
They were 197 for 4, the pitch was agreeably slow-paced, and in place of the clouds there was a vast blue Queensland sky.
Siddle was simply England's worst vision of hell. He had Cook caught in the slips after drawing him forward to his position of maximum vulnerability, swept aside Matt Prior with a ball that straightened its way through an inviting gate and then, with The Gabba crowd remembering they were supposed to be inhabiting not a cricket ground but the abattoir of English hopes, delivered to Stuart Broad an unplayable yorker. By way of a digestive, he also sent back Graeme Swann, who like Broad demanded a video referral. Both, though, might have been whistling as they passed the graveyard.
Plainly England's cause here may not yet be lost. Bell batted superbly before surrendering his wicket in a race against the disappearance of the tail, and Broad – who came out of his batting ordeal with some spirit at the bowling crease – Jimmy Anderson, Steve Finn and Swann still had 235 runs to bowl against when they came out again early this morning.
However, they do have a problem and after all the confidence of their build-up to the series it has to be acknowledged as a major one. It is that the Australians, after three straight Test defeats, have reason to believe in themselves again. As cricketers, this is to inflict themselves on any circumstances, to show that the quality that made them so distinct as competitors, is indeed still alive.
That Siddle should so perfectly embody this quality was much less of a surprise when you considered really who he was and where he came from.
For a start, he is the product of three generations of wood-chopping champions – a destiny that was laid down to him when he was handed his first "blade" as a two-year-old. A hazardous gift for a toddler, you might say, and so it proved soon enough when he near cut off one of his fingers. However, it was not such a problem, his father recalled cheerily. Fair dinkum, the doctor did a great job sowing it back. Furthermore, it was achieved without the use of painkillers.
Siddle was left a little abashed by all the glory at The Gabba. Did he remember his fellow Victorian Warne's hat-trick at the MCG? "Not really," he said. "I was probably in the backyard impersonating him at the time. Listen, today I took the wickets but tomorrow it could be one of the other boys. The strength of Australian cricket is that we know how important it is to think as a team. Individual performances grow out of that way of looking at things. One day you're doing it, tomorrow it's someone else."
Ponting might have written that particular speech himself before he rushed over to embrace the man who, if nothing else, had reminded the cricket world, and most pertinently England, that there was indeed still more than a little life left in the baggy green caps.
However, Siddle some time ago proved that he probably wasn't in need of such prompting. When serious injury so recently threatened his Test career, he confided, "The losers are the ones who are always making excuses. The winners just try harder."
It meant that yesterday, for one day at least, Peter Siddle maybe qualified as everyone's hero.
Treble tops: Ashes hat-tricks
Peter Siddle's hat-trick yesterday was the eighth in Ashes history and the ninth in matches between England and Australia. (Spofforth's happened before the creation of the little urn):
Frederick Spofforth (Australia) Melbourne, 2 January 1879
"The Demon" clean bowled two and had one caught to take the first Test hat-trick. Took 13 wickets but his side lost.
Billy Bates (England) Second Test, Melbourne, 20 Jan 1883
Part of a seven-wicket haul for the Yorkshireman in an innings victory.
Johnny Briggs (Eng) Second Test, Sydney, 2 February 1892
The 29-year-old's treble included one caught by WG Grace. Unable to prevent loss.
Jack Hearne (Eng) Third Test, Headingley, 30 June 1899
Powerful 32-year-old's heroics not enough to prevent match ending in a draw.
Hugh Trumble (Aus) Second Test, Melbourne, 4 January 1902
Captured seven wickets in victory.
Hugh Trumble Fifth Test, Melbourne, 8 March 1904
Trumble took second Ashes hat-track and nine wickets in match – but England won.
Shane Warne (Aus) Second Test, Melbourne, 29 Dec 1994
Captured wickets of Phil DeFreitas, Darren Gough and Devon Malcolm in heavy win.
Darren Gough (Eng) Fifth Test, Sydney, 2 January 1998
Gained measure of revenge in defeat, having Ian Healy caught before bowling Stuart MacGill and Colin Miller.
Peter Siddle (Aus) First Test, Brisbane, 25 November 2010
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