Sidebottom: The reason I gave up on England

The bowler tells Richard Rae about his 11-month-old daughter, going home to Yorkshire and who will win the Ashes
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The Independent Online

Cherchez la femme, Alexandre Dumas advised, and when Ryan Sidebottom gets out of his car, at least one of the reasons why he has decided to retire from international cricket quickly becomes apparent. At just over 11 months old, little Indiana has a smile to warm any heart, and appears to be as serenely content in her father's company as it is just about possible to be. And of course, vice versa.

Spending more time with the family is what politicians say when they resign before they're fired, isn't it? Sidebottom smiles. "I started to think seriously about calling it a day after we won the T20 World Cup, not long after she was born. It fitted then, because I would have been going out at the top. Maybe if the next series had been a tour I would have done it, but with a home series ahead, I decided I'd give it another summer, if I was selected.

"But over that time I gave it a lot of thought, sat down with my dad [Arnie, the former Yorkshire and England seamer] and really talked it over. The bottom line was that until I was 29, I was pretty sure I was destined to be a one-cap wonder, just like dad. In fact we used to joke that at least we'd always be in the record books, so when I got a second chance, and then went on to play another 20 or so Tests, it always felt like a huge bonus.

"Now I'm 33, the training that's required to be an international strike bowler is not getting any easier. But because I'm still pretty fit, I felt I had three good years of county cricket left in me, seasons in which I could really make a contribution.

"I knew being at home a lot more would be part of that – I'd be happier in myself, and that's a big part of being a professional athlete. So all in all it simply felt like the right time."

The unkind might suggest that – like a politician – Sidebottom made the decision before it was made for him. But while the emergence of Steve Finn and Ajmal Shahzad – and his own susceptibility to injury – may have made it unlikely that the Yorkshireman would have added to his 22 Test caps during the Ashes series, his effectiveness in the short forms of the game – especially T20 – would surely have meant he would have been a member of the one-day squad.

Bearing in mind that by Sidebottom's calculation, playing regular international cricket can in some cases treble a cricketer's income, did he not think about still making himself available for one-day games?

"Leaving aside whether I'd be selected in either format, that would have been a selfish decision. Money's important, of course it is, because we have relatively short careers and it's not as though we earn the sort of money footballers earn. But it's not the only reason I play cricket."

But it is, he acknowledges, the main reason he has left Nottinghamshire in the year they won the County Championship on the final day of the season, to return to his native Yorkshire. "If I was committing to county cricket, I felt my last contract had to give me some security. Yorkshire were prepared to give me three years, and Notts felt two was the most they should offer. I understand and respect that, and I'm desperately sorry to leave, because leaving Yorkshire and coming to Trent Bridge six years ago was probably the best decision I made in my career.

"Winning the Championship with Yorkshire in 2001 was great, so was winning it with Notts in 2005, but the way we won it on the last day this year, when people had written us off, couldn't have been bettered."

He is amused by the thought that he will probably be remembered for the part he played with the bat on that final day, sharing in a last-wicket stand that secured a crucial fifth batting point, before combining with Andre Adams to take the three Lancashire wickets required to give them a sixth, title-winning bonus point.

"I wasn't that nervous to be honest, it was far worse for the guys who were chewing their nails on the balcony. At least I was being kept busy, and these days we all work on our batting. The thing was, if Lancashire had been prepared to be fair about chasing a target, Readie [Nottinghamshire's captain Chris Read] would probably have declared much earlier and tried to bowl them out, but they were demanding 240 in 60 overs or something equally daft, so we thought 'stuff it, we'll do it our way'."

Yorkshire were not the only county to offer Sidebottom a three-year deal. Hampshire, Durham, Surrey and Lancashire were among a clutch fighting for his signature. Going home, however, was always likely to be his preferred option.

"I still feel as though I left in unsatisfactory circumstances. At the time I wasn't playing regularly, and maybe I'd got a bit stale, but there were some around who probably weren't that bothered that I left. Also Yorkshire have built a really talented young team that plays exciting cricket. I'm not going to mark time, I want to help build something and win things."

The business of exorcising unhappy memories goes back a long way for Sidebottom. He can still hear the voice of the Yorkshire Under-14s coach telling him, in front of his team-mates, that he would never be good enough to play cricket for a living and should go away and do something else. And the parents of other boys saying he was only there because of his dad.

"It was a two-hour drive back from the match, and my mum knew something was wrong because I don't think I said a word all the way home. I'd hope a coach wouldn't publicly humiliate any kid that way these days."

Given what Sidebottom has gone on to achieve, perhaps that coach would claim to have effected a smart piece of reverse psychology, but it is not a method Sidebottom will use when he begins the process of obtaining his coaching badges, which Yorkshire have promised to arrange.

Time may be a problem in that respect, because Sidebottom intends to play as much as is "sensible" in all forms of cricket. Off-season, a burgeoning property business, not to mention Indiana, will keep him busy.

England's efforts in Australia will be watched with interest but no regrets. He adds: "It's going to be 2-1 to England, though they need to get off to a good start, and show they can cope with the pressure of all the Aussie support. I think they will."

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