James Lawton: ‘Sid Vicious’ delivers hit the Aussies had craved
England cannot plead they had not been warned news of the death of Australian cricket — or at least that form of it which dominated the world's game for so long — may just have been a shade premature.
Matthew Hayden, one of the cornerstones of the team who enforced such a ferociously competitive ethos, was quite specific. Beware of the wounded Australian cricketer, he declared on the eve of the first Test here, and yesterday the kind of man capable of the gut-wrenching effort Hayden had in mind announced himself.
Peter Siddle did rather more than achieve the first Ashes hat-trick since Shane Warne performed the mystical trick in Melbourne 16 years ago.
The man nicknamed ‘Sid Vicious by the Aussie media gave his captain, the great batsman Ricky Ponting, the one thing he most craved as he contemplated the bleak possibility that he might be leading his nation to a third series defeat in the historic contest.
“You can't turn on the intensity we need like you can a switch,” he said. “It just has to come from exceptional effort — and performance.”
If Ponting had itemised his needs down to the last detail, had them typed up and handed to the 26-year-old from a country town in Victoria, he could not have been more perfectly satisfied.Here anyway was the inventory of glory Siddle, who was celebrating his 26th birthday after the most difficult of career-threatening years, ticked off in his new role as the redeemer of the Australian cricket spirit.
First he would have to cut down an impressive England response to the shock of losing captain Andrew Strauss to the third ball of the day delivered by Ben Hilfenhaus.
He could best do this by getting rid of Kevin Pietersen just as he seemed to be growing into the kind of free-wheeling shoot-out-the-lights mood that defines the best of his extraordinary talent.
Then he could further erode the heart of English batting by removing the one man to share with Pietersen serious resistance to the Australian onslaught in the humiliating whitewash here four years ago, the dogged Paul Collingwood.
Siddle, though, had scarcely begun his extraordinary mission. The hat-trick came when England had weathered the worst blows and, with Alastair Cook batting with splendid obduracy and Ian Bell with nothing less than real beauty, had stabilised to the point of contemplating a match-winning score.
They were 197-4, the pitch was agreeably slow-placed and in place of the clouds there was a vast blue Queensland sky.
Siddle had Cook caught in the slips after drawing him forward to his position of maximum vulnerability, swept aside Matt Prior with a ball that straitened its way through an inviting gate and then, with the Gabba crowd remembering they were supposed to be inhabiting not a cricket ground but the abattoir of English hopes, delivered to Stuart Broad an unplayable yorker. By way of a digestive, he also sent back Graeme Swann.
Plainly England's cause here may not yet be lost. Bell batted superbly before surrendering his wicket in a race against the disappearance of the tail and Broad, who came out of his batting ordeal with some spirit at the bowling crease, Jimmy Anderson, Steve Finn and Swann still had 235 runs to bowl against when they came out again in the early hours of this morning.
However they do have a problem and after all the confidence of their build-up to the series it has to be acknowledged as a major one. It is that the Australians, after three straight Test defeats, have reason to believe in themselves again. As cricketers, this is, to inflict themselves on any circumstances, to show that the quality that made them so distinct as competitors, is indeed still alive.
That Siddle should so perfectly embody this quality was much less of a surprise when you considered really who he was and where he came from.
For a start, he came from three generations of wood-chopping champions — a destiny that was laid down to him when he was handed his first “blade” as a two-year-old. A hazardous gift for a toddler, you might say, and so it proved soon enough when he near cut off one of his fingers. However, it was not such a problem, his father recalled cheerily. Fair dinkum, the doctor did a great job sowing it back. Furthermore, it was achieved without the use of painkillers.
When serious injury so recently threatened his Test career, he confided, “The losers are the ones who are always making excuses. The winners just try harder.”
It meant that yesterday, for one day at least, Peter Siddle maybe qualified as everyone's hero.