Home Interviews Ryan Sidebottom, former England bowler

Ryan Sidebottom, former England bowler

by Freddie

Last month marked the 10th anniversary of the famous T20 World Cup win in the West Indies – hands up if you watched the re-run of that magnificent victory over Australia, on Sky Sports, recently?

With that T20 victory in mind, this month we speak to a star of the final, and the competition, former England, Yorkshire and Notts bowler (and Dancing on ice King), Ryan ‘Siddy’ Sidebottom.

And what better way to start this interview, than with that famous victory.

“Amazing,” reflected Siddy. “In the lead up to the tournament we’d become the team that invented T20 cricket, who’d been left behind. In 2009, we lost to Holland, but I remember Paul Collingwood went off to the IPL, with KP and a couple of others. He gained so much experience from that competition. He saw how others approached the game and realised very quickly, that we needed to change the way we play.”

One change was of course the late introduction of openers Craig Kieswetter and Michael Lumb to the squad, on the eve of the tournament. “They had been on an England A tour in Dubai and we’d stopped off there on the way to somewhere else, to play some warm-up games. They absolutely smashed the whole team to all parts of that ground in Dubai. It opened Colly’s eyes to how the T20 game should be played. They were so attacking. If we were to be successful in the tournament, we had to play no fear cricket, and take it to the opposition.”

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It wasn’t plain sailing to the final though. “In the qualifiers we lost to the West Indies. I remember we scored over 200, then it rained. Duckworth/Lewis somehow calculated they needed a revised target of something like 90 off of 12 overs, but the number of wickets they lost didn’t matter, the target remained the same. A similar thing then happened with Ireland, when it rained, and Duckworth/Lewis calculated they needed 17 off of the last 2 overs. Thankfully, this time it rained again, and the match was abandoned, so we qualified. From there on though, the cricket we played was awesome. The bowling was consistent, and the batting was fantastic – I don’t think we used players from 6 down.”

So, what about that final? “It was amazing to beat Australia. They’d won their semi-final in a nail-biter. Michael Hussey saw them home, having needed 30-odd from the last 3 overs. Both teams were staying in the same hotel and I just remember them walking about and coming across quite arrogant. They just thought that England never win finals and we’d bottle it. Yet, we were so confident. On the bus to the ground, I knew we were going to win. There was a whole air of confidence about our team.”

Aside from the batting, one of the keys to success in that tournament, was Siddy’s ability to bowl a slow left arm bouncer. “The pitches were very slow in the Caribbean, and it was just a tactic we came up with. We were the first team to invent it and it’s stayed around since then. The reason we bowled it was in the Caribbean the wind can get so strong across the ground so to one side it would take a serious hit to score a six or four into the wind. It allowed us to use the wind to great effect.”

Siddy’s 2/26 from his allotted four overs restricted the Aussies to 147/6 and England chased down the total with 3 overs to spare, thanks to Craig Kieswetter’s brilliant 63 from 49 balls, as the side lifted their first ever global ICC tournament.

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Important question, what were the celebrations like? “I can’t remember! All I can remember, is that the rum and cokes were flowing for a couple of nights!”

We’ll talk more of Siddy’s England highlights later, but let’s rewind to the beginning.

Unsurprisingly, Sid’s journey into cricket came via his Dad, Archie Sidebottom. “My father played cricket for Yorkshire, and football for Manchester United, so I’d always been sporty. Any chance I had to have a ball in my hand at an early age, I’d take. As a child, I’d always go up to Headingly, and I used to love sitting in the dressing room listening to expletives from Geoffrey Boycott and David Bairstow – with my fingers in my ears, of course! I remember there used to be an area of grass, behind where the East stand is now, and whenever Dad was playing for Yorkshire, I’d be on that grass, playing cricket for hours and hours, with all of the other kids. It’s fair to say, I was hooked from an early age.”

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But it wasn’t an easy path towards professional cricket. “I was never selected for Yorkshire schools. If I’m honest there was always a bit of nepotism: ‘he’s only there because of his Dad’, and so on. I always had a lot to contend with, with my cricket growing up. I just wanted to play the game and have fun.  When you receive those kinds of comments as a 13 or 14-year-old it’s hard to take and difficult to understand. But my Dad became a good sounding board. He would always be blunt and tell me how it is – a typical Yorkshireman. I remember him saying to me: ‘do you want to work down the mines like your grandad or prove people wrong?’. He wanted me to forget what people say, because it doesn’t really matter. Ever since that conversation, I always made sure I trained harder than anyone else. I worked harder than anyone else. I spent more time in the gym than anyone else and I bowled longer than anyone else. Looking back, I was so pleased to have those lessons, so quickly.”

They’re lessons we should all take heed of. It really doesn’t matter what anybody thinks. It’s what you do, that matters.

Sid’s hard work and commitment did pay off though, when Yorkshire’s under 16s coach George Batty selected him, for the county’s under 16s side. A YTS contract soon followed.

“That YTS was great, because Yorkshire’s 1st XI used to train in the same indoor school, and I loved that because it meant we always got invited to bowl against them.”

Sid’s bowling obviously impressed, as an academy contract soon followed.

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Anyone who watched Sid during his career would admire his never give up attitude. I was interested to know, if there was an influence, aside from his father, behind his approach to the game? “Darren Gough. I loved the way he played his cricket. He’d give everything for the cause and had that Yorkshire ‘never give up’ spirit. And he would always play the game with a smile on his face.”

Sid made his 1st XI debut in 1997, away at Grace Road, Leicestershire, and quickly got into the grove. “I took 3 wickets in the first innings, which was great. Early wickets always settle the nerves and make you feel more relaxed. I remember being told before the game to go out and enjoy it. Just do what I’d been doing in the 2s. We had a strong team with some household Yorkshire names like Craig White, David Byas and Martyn Moxon. It was a bit weird in a sense, in that I grew up watching some of them and now I was in the same dressing room as a team-mate. But I was very well looked after and they all put me totally at ease.”

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Siddy’s early success saw him selected for England under 19s, where he was the leading wicket-taker in a series against Zimbabwe and he was awarded the Denis Compton medal for two successive years. The medal was an annual award given to ‘The Most Promising Young Player’ at each of the 18 English first-class counties.

But one of his first ‘life experiences’ came when he spent a winter playing grade cricket in Melbourne. “As an 18-year-old, that was a great experience. The Aussies don’t ever hold back in grade cricket. I remember the first few games I played, I got absolutely abused! But it’s those life experiences that make you stronger. I learnt it was the Australian way. You took it on the chin. You fought back. You learnt to fight fire with fire. And after the game, you shared a beer.”

Further international call ups quickly followed, first, an England A tour to the West Indies, where he took 16 wickets at a bowling average of under 17, and then a call up for the Test series against Pakistan in 2001. But it was to be his only Test appearance for 6 years. I was keen to know how frustrating that must have been, particularly for a young player?

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“I got selected for that Test against Pakistan on the back of that tour to the West Indies, but I was very inexperienced. I’d only played a handful of games for Yorkshire. When you get called up for your country, of course it’s a very proud moment. I went out there and gave it my best shot, but I was probably a bit too nervous. I didn’t take a wicket and one Test as a 21-year-old is difficult to take. But again, my Dad gave me some good advice and told me I knew what I needed to do. And he was right, I needed to be stronger, fitter, leaner, swing the ball more and work on different deliveries.”

Which is precisely what he did.

The 2001 season saw Sid and his Yorkshire team-mates lift the club’s first county championship for many, many years, and although he didn’t realise it at the time, it was to become the first of five county championships that he was to win in a terrific playing career. Yet, that first win did have a tinge of disappointment, in that the white rose county were not able to build upon it.

“It was an amazing achievement to win that championship. Yorkshire hadn’t won it for so many years, and it was especially nice for the supporters, who love their cricket. We actually won it quite comfortably, with 3 or 4 games to go. However, as a team and a club, we should have gone on from that. We rested on our laurels quite a bit. We certainly celebrated that winter and if anything, we became a very good drinking team with a cricket problem. We should have kicked on and won more trophies.”

At the end of the 2003 season, Siddy made the move away from Headingley to Trent Bridge.

“Moving to Notts and opening the bowling for them in all formats, enhanced my career. I wasn’t playing regularly at Yorkshire, and if I’m honest I was going a bit stale. I needed to move away from to grow and mature as a player. It helped me massively being around some new senior players such as Stephen Fleming and Mark Ealham.  I gained so much experience from those guys. It wasn’t about going out in the middle needing to do this and that, they challenged me. They challenged me to think how I could improve my game and how I should bowl on different kinds of wickets. I had seven wonderful years at Trent Bridge.”

It was period, where, despite relegation in 2006, Notts became one of the strongest counties in the country, winning the championship twice in 2005 and 2010, and were regular quarter finalists and semi-finalists in the various domestic cup competitions.

“We had a strong nucleus of players, with wonderful a team spirit and we played some really good cricket. We should have won the title a few years in a row, really. Every year we were there or thereabouts, 2nd, 3rd and then would fall away at the end of the season. The trophy cabinet should have had a few more trophies in it, but what a great few years with a great group of players.”

Siddy’s form for Nottinghamshire, put him back in contention with the England selectors and what followed from 2007 to 2010 would be anyone’s dream as he finally was given the opportunity to show his true worth on the international stage. How about this for a list: Test hat-trick, five 5-wicket hauls, a T20 World Cup and a place in the ICC World’s Test XI in 2008?

Sid made his Test return in the second Test against the West Indies, at his home from home, Headingley. His first victim wasn’t too shabby either, Chris Gayle. Siddy ended up with 8 wickets (4/42 and 4/44) as England went on to win the Test by a record, innings and 283 runs.

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I asked if a recall had been on his mind during that summer? “Not being arrogant but I was in the best form of my life at the time. I was consistently taking wickets. When I received the call up and knowing the game was at Headingley, everything just felt right.”

Were there any nerves leading into the game, having gone through what he did, in 2001? “No, not at all. The ball was swinging, and I knew my own game, unlike in 2001. I knew I had to pitch the ball up and get a bit of lateral movement. If I did that, I knew I could take wickets because my bowling would always be consistent.”

In that first innings 4/42 Siddy’s first wicket was Chris Gayle, not too shabby. “In training before the game, I was bowling beautifully in the nets. On the morning of the game, I remember travelling to the ground and just saying to myself ‘come on, you can do it’. My whole family were in the western terrace! So, to get Gayle first up was brilliant. It completely took any pressure off.”

Siddy went on to take 24 wickets that summer in the series against the West Indies and India, I asked him, if after those performances he felt like he’d cemented his place back in the side?

“You never really feel like that, as you know there’s always another bowler around the corner, chomping at the bit to take your place. I don’t think I ever felt like I’d cemented my place. For me, the best thing was to always put myself under pressure. Because if you don’t have that pressure, a couple of bad games can catch up with you very quickly and suddenly you’re out of the side, fighting to get back in. And that isn’t easy. How often do you see it when players get dropped, they go back to their counties and try too hard, forgetting what they did to get selected in the first place, and they struggle to get back in. I needed to have that pressure.”

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In the winter of 2007, the team headed to a quick bowler’s graveyard, Sri Lanka. The series begun with a 5 match ODI series, which despite going 1-0 down, England went on to win – the first time an England side had won an ODI series in the country. Siddy was at the heart of the success, with 12 wickets in some extremely tough bowling conditions.

“You had to be extremely fit to bowl in Sri Lanka and it took me a couple of weeks to fully acclimatise. The heat and humidity were crazy, and you could struggle to breath at times. You’d run up to bowl in the nets, and you’d literally drop the ball because of the sweat. Some bowlers were genuinely hitting the side netting, because you just couldn’t grip it. We ended up winning the one-day series, which was amazing, and we played some really good cricket against a competitive Sri Lankan side who were always tough to beat in their home conditions.”

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A tour to New Zealand followed that winter, and this was the tour for many England fans, to see Siddy finally get the full reward for the huge amount of work he’d been putting in.

“The Test series in Sri Lanka that followed the ODI win, was the best I’d bowled for England. I didn’t take many wickets, there were dropped catches, and LBWs turned down, but I felt in really good form. I took that form to New Zealand.”

Siddy took the 37th Test hat-trick on that tour, a hat-trick that included his county colleague Stephen Fleming, and four 5-wicket hauls, including a Test best 7/47. “I really was buoyed by the way I bowled in Sri Lanka. I just kept gaining momentum and the ball was coming out brilliantly.”

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Sid also recalls wise words from county colleague Mark Ealham, which stuck with him throughout that tour and beyond. “Mark once told me, that if you don’t take wickets, don’t get annoyed, you’re getting wickets for the other bowlers. Yours will come. It paid off.”

It was a golden period for Siddy, as he went on that year to be named England’s player of the year, Wisden player of the year and of course, that place in the ICC World team of the year.

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2010 as we already mentioned saw that World Cup win and months later, he announced his retirement from international cricket. A difficult decision? “Yes and no. I could have carried on and taken the money. But I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. I weighed it up. I was 32, wasn’t going to play much longer for England and there were young lads chomping at the bit to get in. The timing was right. I didn’t want to just fizzle out and get dropped. I could have carried on, carried drinks, gone on a few tours, but it just didn’t sit right with me and I knew I could still play four or five more years of county cricket.”

And that he did, with huge success. He returned to Yorkshire from Notts, and two more county championships were won as the white rose county became the dominant force in the domestic game.

“I was bitterly disappointed to leave Notts. I retired from England to prolong my county career. My contract was up, and I was hoping for a long-term contract, but they only offered me a year. It left me with no choice. I put myself out there and several counties put an offer in for me, and I was lucky that Yorkshire offered me a four-year deal. They had the likes of the Roots, Bairstows, Ballances coming through, so it was no brainer to go back to where it all started.”

What followed, as we shared in our recent interview with Andrew Gale, was unprecedented success. “We had some very good players. We played well as a team and enjoyed each other’s successes. We won two championships in a row and in my opinion, it should have been four. The third year we missed out at Middlesex on the last day and in the fourth year we fell at the final hurdle – where in games we should have won, we lost. It could have been four in a row.”

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I asked this question of Andrew Gale, but thought I’d also put it to Siddy as well, did the England call ups of the likes of Root, Bairstow, Balance, Lyth etc, play a part in not winning four out of four? “No, I don’t think so. We always had a big squad, and I actually think it had the opposite effect. It maintained our levels of performance. It allowed young and hungry players to come through and develop.”

And what was Jason Gillespie like as a coach to play under during this period. “He was brilliant. Good fun and a great man manager. He was a legend in his playing days, so to have him in the dressing room, why wouldn’t you listen to what he says. He got players playing better and turned Yorkshire around.”

Siddy retired at the end of that 2017 season and in 2018 became a bowling coach for Surrey when they won the 2018 county championship. There really is a theme developing here with Siddy and the county championship! Five titles as a player and a sixth as part of a coaching team!

“I loved my year at Surrey and coaching is definitely something I want to build upon. I don’t think a head coach role is for me, but I enjoy passing on my experiences to younger bowlers. I’d love to do more of it.”

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Siddy’s stint at Surrey lasted only a year as he accepted an offer to appear on ITV’s Dancing on Ice. “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’d never been in ice-skates in my life and trust me, ice-skates on someone who is 6ft 4 is not ideal.”

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And how did he fare? “It was great. I made it to week 7, so I can’t grumble as I was absolutely horrendous. Give me cricket, any day!”

And that day, I’m convinced will come again soon. It would be cricket’s mistake not to tap into the experience of this England hero.

Ryan, for those never give up performances, those 5 wicket hauls, that hat-trick, that World Cup, win, THANK YOU! There’s a reason, we loved you playing for England!

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