Unheralded Peter Siddle proves to be durable if not fashionable

The unsung hero of Australia’s attack was preferred to Mitchell Starc and, true to type, was efficient and unspectacular
Peter Siddle celebrates after dismissing Jos Buttler, his one wicket of the day.
Peter Siddle celebrates after dismissing Jos Buttler, his one wicket of the day. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

If you were writing an Australia-focused article about the second day at Lord’s, you would probably make your subject Josh Hazlewood: coming back into the Test side, taking the first three wickets, swinging Australia towards an excellent day.

Failing that you would write about Patrick Cummins, his pace and bounce and aggression that likewise netted him three wickets in a bookend performance, stamping his dominance over fragile English batting.

Or if not, you would write about Nathan Lyon, with his three wickets to equal the great Dennis Lillee on 355: a tale of the humble off-spinner who for Australia trails only the distant titans of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.

What you would not do is write about Peter Siddle, with his consistent pitch and his 13 overs and his figures of one for 48 because an intrinsic part of covering Australian cricket is not writing about Siddle. He is always given the least attention, the least regard.

Even as he began his first spell Geoffrey Boycott was firing popcorks on Test Match Special. “You can’t take wickets at 80 mile an hour,” was the general contention, which rather skirted around the work of Tim Murtagh for Ireland at the same ground three weeks ago or Mohammad Abbas for Pakistan in England last year.

There was also some forgetfulness in arguing that Mitchell Starc should have been picked instead because he bowls faster, given that this exact arrangement had proved spectacularly unsuccessful when the coach, Darren Lehmann, insisted on it during Australia’s previous tour.

Siddle was not fashionable then nor is he fashionable now. He bowls seam on a length, over and over. He does not have rocket-speed or booming swing. During every match he plays for Australia you will find people questioning his presence, Australia supporters well represented among them. And during every match you will find Siddle striving to do what needs to be done.

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At Lord’s he bowled behind Cummins and Hazlewood as per the natural order, from the Pavilion End with the slope running downhill from off stump to leg for the right-hander. An uncharacteristically loose first over got tapped for three boundaries, then he settled in. Down the slope the ball moved into the right-handed Joe Denly and across the left-handed Burns. Other times it held its line off the seam as they expected it to move.

Denly inside-edged through the legs of Cameron Bancroft at bat-pad, then drove a boundary. Siddle was not fussed: his next over to Burns was a maiden and the last ball drew an edge to gully. Usman Khawaja dropped it.

Denly nicked past the slip cordon and Siddle’s five-over spell came to an end. Lunch came around, then eight more overs before his captain, Tim Paine, gave him the ball again. First ball back, another perfect seaming line, had Burns edging behind. This time Paine spilled the chance, then ended his bowler’s spell after two overs when Cummins picked up Burns instead.

Siddle came back a few overs later. His previous ball had been to Jos Buttler, pitched up enough to entice a drive through the covers. Within three balls of coming back, Siddle bowled to Buttler again and held the length back. The ball straightened, drawing a grazed edge from one of England’s most dangerous.

It was another unheralded day for a typically unheralded bowler, who again had read the conditions and provided support for teammates more likely to draw the eye. It was just as in the first Test at Edgbaston, where his squeeze at 1.93 runs per over was vital in the first innings, along with picking up Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow along the way.

Or again in the second innings, where he bowled one of the best none-fors you’ll see: catches dropped, reviews overturned, edges galore and likewise never topped two per over until one last streaky boundary at the end. Neither of these efforts will yield the credit they should.

If Australia are to win in England at last, of course they need the big players. The pace, the intimidation, the reputation but they also need balance. Siddle is the discipline, the fibre, the steamed brown rice you serve to balance the richer elements of the meal.

In Lehmann’s time Australian cricket thought it could drink a pot of molten cheese with Maltesers stirred through it. That is not a viable diet any more.