Good teams contain good people – strong, reliable, resourceful figures that have admirable principles, set the right example to other members of the side and enjoy taking on responsibility. In Ryan Sidebottom England have belatedly found a cracker.
Sidebottom made his Test debut for England against Pakistan in the summer of 2001, took 0 for 64 in 20 overs and was overlooked for the remainder of Duncan Fletcher's tenure as coach. Fletcher did not believe the left-arm seamer possessed the pace or skill to trouble international batsmen. It was folly.
Peter Moores, the current England coach, held other ideas, drafting Sidebottom in to the Test side for his second game in charge. The move followed a wayward and extremely disappointing bowling display from England against the West Indies at Lord's in the first Test of last summer. Since then Sidebottom has become the most reliable and consistent member of England's bowling attack and it will be he, rather than Matthew Hoggard and Stephen Harmison, a pair of bowlers with more than 200 Test wickets each, who will be expected to lead the team's assault on New Zealand in Wednesday's first Test.
But it is not just on the field that Sidebottom has impressed. At practice and away from the bright lights his conduct has been exemplary too. The 30-year-old trains assiduously and is courteous to anyone that approaches him. His parents should be proud of him. In fact the only criticism one could have of him is his hair – it is a mess and he ought to get it cut.
Sidebottom's importance to the side could be seen by the attention that was paid to him during yesterday's practice in Hamilton. To prove that he had recovered from a minor hamstring tear he bowled two spells in the nets and underwent a strenuous set of shuttles on the main pitch.
"I have had a good workout and I am fighting fit, raring to go and available for selection," said a delighted Sidebottom after training. "I was slightly worried a few days ago because you don't want to miss Test matches or tours but I am not going on a plane home and I am happy with that."
Many bowlers are remembered for the way they attempt to impose themselves on a batsman. Shane Warne would stand at the end of his follow through, bellow a loud appeal at the umpire before turning to his opponent and muttering an abusive comment. Curtley Ambrose never spoke. He just stood there, all 6ft 8in of him, staring at you. Sidebottom's method is unique and almost unbecoming of such a softly spoken man. When things do not go his way he roars down the pitch like a Maori doing the Haka.
The primeval reaction is not saved just for an opposition batsman who continually plays and misses at him. If one of Sidebottom's own fielders drops a catch or misfields he can expect similar treatment. Such a response has led to him being criticised in some quarters; the belief being that his reaction undermines the confidence of the individual concerned.
Other less unsympathetic followers, of which I am one, find it understandable. If you think catching a cricket ball is hard, try forcing a high-quality batsman into making a mistake on a pristine pitch. Sidebottom is aware of the effect a tantrum could have on a colleague and will attempt to modify his behaviour ever so slightly. He believes the outbursts come from his desire to win, and to make up for the six years he spent in the international wilderness.
"The lads keep going on about me having a little bit of white-line fever but I am not going to change that too much," said Sidebottom. "I have always wanted to win basically. I don't like bowling badly and when things don't go my way I get a little bit grumpy. I suppose I see the cricket I play now as an opportunity, having not played for England for six years, and I am trying to make the most of it.
"Aggression is part of my game and when I am pumped up I bowl pretty well. Yes, I have to curb it a little bit and sometimes you do get frustrated and you do just have to get on with it and keep bowling. Sometimes I do go over the top a little bit and that is something I have to look at. Players do not mean to drop catches but I have had a few dropped and there is a build up. It is my job to take wickets and if that doesn't happen I am disappointed. If I am not taking wickets I am not doing my job."
Sidebottom's Test record is modest – 29 wickets in 10 Tests at an average of 34.48 – but he has bowled better than that. Indeed, if half of the catches dropped off his bowling had been taken his bowling average would be below 30, better than that of Hoggard and Harmison. Nobody, not even Sidebottom himself, truly believed that he would now be where he is and he is determined to make the most of it.
"When I went to Headingley last summer and things were said, yes, I thought I was just a stop-gap player who would play in just one more Test," he admitted. "I suppose I have surprised myself. I always knew that if I performed for England how I did for Nottinghamshire I would be okay, but I never really dreamt that I would be a regular in the side as I am now. It has been a quick turnaround and to be regarded as one of England's opening bowlers is a nice thing to have. It is something I would like to keep for a while.
"Coming in at such a late age has probably made me appreciate it more. I have spoken to my dad [Arnie, the former Yorkshire and England bowler] a few times and he has always told me to play each game as though it may be my last. He constantly tells me to make the most of it. I want to play as much as possible and not take it for granted. There are always other guys knocking on the door and injuries do come around. Things can change overnight, so I will give it my best shot and make the most of the opportunity."
Such an outlook does not sound particularly exotic but the life of an international cricketer is not as sexy as it sounds. The challenge for Moores is to find or produce more cricketers like Sidebottom: then England's fortunes will surely rise.
Sexual Chocolate – a beer, a cocktail, an England fast bowler
With his wild ringlets, Ryan "Sid" Sidebottom looks like the bass player in a heavy metal band, and his alternative nickname, "Sexual Chocolate", does have a musical provenance, of sorts. In the 1988 film Coming to America, one of the multiple roles played by Eddie Murphy is the singer Randy Watson, whose rug bears a distinct resemblance to the England fast bowler's. He fronts the band Sexual Chocolate, who perform the Whitney Houston song "Greatest Love of All" at a Black Awareness Rally.
Sidebottom does not have a monopoly on the phrase: it is also a cocktail, a beer brewed in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the stage name of the wrestler Mark Henry and Alanis Morrissette's backing band.Reuse content