Ryan Sidebottom would have been excused for declining the invitation to play for Nottinghamshire on Wednesday when the county takes on Oxford University in a three-day friendly at The Parks. Sidebottom almost single-handedly carried England to victory during the team's recent three-Test tour of New Zealand, taking 24 wickets at an average of 17.08. It was tiring stuff for the fast bowler and he, more than any member of Michael Vaughan's squad, deserved a decent rest before what will be a physically demanding summer.
But Sidebottom will travel to Oxford refreshed and eager to maintain the wonderful form that has transformed him into England's premier bowler. When top players find a rhythm they are happy with they are reluctant to let it go, and four weeks after bowling the ball that took England to a Test series victory in New Zealand, the recently-married mop-haired 30-year-old will subject a group of students to the type of interrogation he gave the Black Caps.
"I wanted to play at Oxford," admitted Sidebottom. "It gives me a good chance to ease back in to cricket without the hard graft of a championship match. I want to keep things going, last week I was bowling in the nets two or three times. I am the type of bowler who needs to keep bowling and if I were to have a couple more weeks off it could take me a couple of weeks longer to find the rhythm I had in New Zealand when I came back.
"I will be approaching the Oxford game in the same way that I approach a test. It would be nice to take a few wickets, get a few overs under my belt and get the body going again. I won't be treating it lightly. I need to be on the money to show that I am ready to play."
Twelve months ago few would have predicted Sidebottom playing Test cricket again, let alone making the impression he has. Duncan Fletcher, the former England coach, did not rate him and he seemed destined to see out his days trundling in at Trent Bridge. Peter Moores thought differently, and in the 12 Tests since his recall he has taken 53 wickets at an average of 25.4, including three five-wicket hauls and a hat-trick in New Zealand.
"I have had a good year but the challenge is to keep it going," Sidebottom said. "I am chuffed to bits but there is still a long way to go. I have only played a handful of games.
"A lot has been said about me in the last few weeks and a few people have got a little carried away but I still feel as though I have a lot to prove.
"I have kept all the balls and the memorabilia but I do not want to get too carried away. Things can change very quickly. They are two tough series this summer, especially the one against South Africa. They are playing great cricket and are probably up there with Australia. It will give us a good opportunity to see where we are."