Hands on hips, Peter Siddle slowly made his way to backward square leg. Ben Stokes had just smashed him, disdainfully, for a couple of boundaries in a set worth 13. His captain and wicketkeeper, Tim Paine, had brought himself up to the stumps for the final delivery. Oh, the indignity.
Out of the 63 overs Australia sent down in the second innings, the veteran had only been called on for eight of them – just four coming in the first 56. In his line of sight, Mitch Marsh was warming up. Was that it? Had he bowled his last ball for Australia? For real this time? It must have crossed his mind. How could it not?
Straight after tea, the skipper backed him in. Despite having battled to deliver the dry overs front-and-centre of his job description to that point in the Test, before that break he found Joe Denly’s outside edge. It didn’t carry, but it was enough for Paine to keep him on. But then Stokes sized him up and it looked like one of those sad moments that professional sport can offer to athletes nearing the end. A moment signifying that the tank had, at last, run dry.
But that’s not Siddle. Four years ago, frustrated that he had been picked over Pat Cummins for the final Test of the series, Shane Warne declared the Victorian would never play again irrespective of how he went. Sure enough, after snaring 6/67 match figures there, he was back in fashion for the following summer. Instead of finishing his career on 192 Test wickets, he joined the 200 Club before injury got the better of him, losing the bulk of the next two summers. Upon returning, he was well back in the queue but his response was to keep doing what he had for a dozen years: cleaning up at domestic level, both here and at home.
Alas, he hadn’t bowled his last ball at the end of that Stokes hammering. Informed by Nathan Lyon removing the superstar in the following over, Paine elected to again stick with Siddle. Liberated by the demise of the player who had clouted him, the 34-year-old was suddenly back in business. He came within an inch of Denly chopping on, then beat Jonny Bairstow on the outside of his blade. A big leg before shout followed, his next ball swinging over the opener’s leg stump – again, by no more than an inch. When Paine came up to the stumps for a second time, this time luck went his way with the man on 94 edging to Steve Smith at slip.
It was a Siddle wicket-taking delivery from central casting: enough angle and deviation to draw the false stroke from a line and length that demanded Denly play. It didn’t look likely minutes earlier, but he had himself a 220th Test scalp. Had he caught Jos Buttler in his follow-through a few minutes after, he would have saved himself another costly couple of overs. But at least this story didn’t abruptly end before that timely touch of class.
Birmingham was Siddle’s most important contribution of his campaign, validating Justin Langer’s blueprint to try something different to 2015 and starve England of oxygen rather than blast them out. The second (and third) coming of this bowler was just that – brain not brawn; the 90mph guy has not existed for a long time. They wanted to outsmart the hosts at the first time of asking and it worked because our subject bowled successive spells throughout that Test which were near-on impossible to score from. With all that has happened in this strange series since, the cagey go-ahead victory at Edgbaston has made all the difference.
That’s all a long time ago now. Siddle earned a chance to go around again in this series for his fourth Test at South London, but that won’t mean much when this is over. If they lose, and they should, him playing ahead of more dynamic options in Mitch Starc and James Pattinson will be rightly criticised.
He will understand and cop that – it’s the sort of character he is. Before the close, a cheeky second wicket put him on 221 for his career and maybe that will be it. On the balance of probabilities? Likely. Yet to say that emphatically – to completely write this guy off – is folly as well. We should have learned that by now.
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