THROWBACK THURSDAY: THREE TIMES SEVEN YEARS OF DISTINCTION
— 12 October 2017
With Ryan Sidebottom now having retired from a most distinguished playing career, Paul Dyson looks back at his time in international and county cricket.
It was on June 22nd, 1997 when Ryan Sidebottom first pulled on a Yorkshire first-team shirt. The game was in the AXA Life League and, interestingly in view of what happened later in his career, it was against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge. He opened the bowling with Chris Silverwood and conceded just 18 runs in his six overs, Yorkshire lost by 13 runs under the Duckworth-Lewis method (its first season) but no matter, his life in the county team was up and running.
Ten days later Sidebottom was making his first-class debut. This was against Leicestershire at Leicester and in the home side’s only innings took three for 71 but in only 16.4 overs so he was rather expensive. Coming on to bowl as third change, Darren Maddy, James Whitaker and Paul Nixon all took advantage of his inexperience.
Although he played in two further List A games in 1997 he played no more first-class cricket in that season because he was called up to represent England U-19s and played in five matches – three Tests and two ODIs. In the former he bowled most impressively to take 16 wickets at 13.56, including seven for 30 at Edgbaston.
At this stage in his career Sidebottom was known firstly as ‘Arnie’s son’ and secondly as Paul Hutchison’s rival. The latter was also a left-arm fast-medium bowler and for Yorkshire to have two such rare types of bowlers at the same time and of a similar age was riches indeed.
The 1999 season saw Sidebottom receive greater opportunities than he had in either of his first two seasons and he took a total of exactly 50 wickets – 24 in 12 first-class matches and 26 in 23 List A games. It was in the following season when he first started to really produce the goods, however, when he took his first five-fors – a total of four in only six first-class matches. The reward for this was a trip to the West Indies with England A; he played in first first-class matches and took 16 wickets.
The reward for this success was for Sidebottom to make his Test debut in 2001 against Pakistan at Lord’s, no less. England won by an innings but no wickets came his way in either of the visitors’ innings. A total of 16 wickets were taken by Darren Gough and Andy Caddick (eight each) with Dominic Cork taking the remaining four. That season will be remembered in Yorkshire more for the county claiming its first Championship title for 33 years. Sidebottom played in exactly half of the 16 games and came fourth in the both the bowling averages and wicket-aggregates with 27 victims at an average of 23.92. During the succeeding winter he made his ODI debut playing in two such games on the England tour of Zimbabwe.
Hutchison, meanwhile, had had a very serious setback to his career. A stress fracture of his back on an earlier England tour of Zimbabwe meant that, after he had recovered, his action had to be completely remodelled. He was never again the same bowler and Yorkshire released him at the end of 2001. This meant the way was now clear for Sidebottom to assume the mantle of being the Club’s premier left-arm pace bowler. For two seasons he did exactly that but, puzzlingly at the time, he decided to try pastures new after 2003 and moved to Nottinghamshire.
Sidebottom played for the east midlands county for seven seasons and this was undoubtedly the peak period of his career. He took 50 first-class wickets in each of 2005 and 2006 and was restored to the Test team – at Headingley – in 2007 against West Indies and his status as a one-cap wonder thus became null and void. He took 24 wickets in six of that summer’s seven Tests, England’s other opponents being India, then went to Sri Lanka and New Zealand as leader of the attack. Only five wickets in the three Tests in Sri Lanka were followed by an astonishing reversal of fortune when the visit to New Zealand resulted in another haul of 24 wickets – but this time in a mere three Tests. Unsurprisingly he was named Man of the Series. Starting at Hamilton with ten wickets (4-90 & 6-49) which included a second-innings hat-trick he took a further six at Wellington and eight (including what remained his career-best of seven for 47) at Napier. Five Tests in 2008 produced a further 23 wickets so a period of 18 months had seen him take 76 wickets in 17 Tests.
Meanwhile, Nottinghamshire were experiencing something of a roller-coaster ride up and down the County Championship. Sidebottom joined just after they had been relegated to the second division to join Yorkshire. Promotion was achieved at the first opportunity and this was followed by the county taking the title at the first possible attempt – in 2005 (Sidebottom 48 wickets at 22.83). Nottinghamshire were then relegated and promoted again in successive seasons and his last three seasons there saw positions of second, second and first.
By this time Sidebottom’s internatioal career appeared to be winding down and he announced his retirement from it prior to his return to Yorkshire for the 2011 season. However, there was one further success awaiting him. Despite not being particularly successful in ODIs he seemed more suited to the very shortest form of the game and was chosen in England’s squad to take part in the Twenty20 World Cup in the West Indies in May 2010. Not only did he play in all seven games, not only was he England’s joint leading wicket-taker (he and Graeme Swann, also a Nottinghamshire player, each took ten wickets) but also gained a coveted World Cup winner’s medal in the process, Australia being defeated in the final to the tune of seven wickets with three overs to spare – a very wide margin in that form of the game.
So one year later and it was back to Sidebottom’s day job with his first county and, as he himself put it, some ‘unfinished business’. If that meant having the best season of his career or if it meant more silverware then he was correct on both counts. The former occurred straightaway – 2011 brought him a total of 62 wickets and a career-best seven for 37 against Somerset at Headingley. Unfortunately, he did not bring the team success; Yorkshire were relegated to the Championship’s second division. However they bounced back immediately and the next four years saw him contribute to positions of second, first, first and third as he brought his tally of Championship winner’s medals to five.
A further 50+ wicket haul in 2013 was followed by Sidebottom topping the county’s bowling averages in each of the title-winning seasons of 2014 and 2015. His opening partner, Jack Brooks, was the leading wicket-taker in both seasons so the pair contributed greatly to Yorkshire’s success. Although his final two seasons were less successful, both personally and team-wise, he was able to look back on his second seven-year stint in Yorkshire with a considerable degree of pride.
So how will cricket’s history judge Ryan Sidebottom? For nigh on 20 years he was the best left-arm seam bowler in the country and played a vital role in the success of two counties. For a brief period of time his bowling was more than good enough to trouble batsmen on the international stage. Most of all, though, he was loyal to his teams and very few players in the modern era, especially pace bowlers, can look back in the knowledge that they kept up their standards for 21 seasons.