Siddle has taken 37 Championship wickets for Essex in the last two years © Getty
Peter Siddle last played for Australia in 2016. Since then, as time has gone on, and Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins have developed into the most potent fast-bowling attack on the planet, chances of the 33 year-old adding to his 62 Test caps appeared to be fading fast. Whether he truly believed he would get back to international cricket or not, Siddle never gave up on Australia. He wanted back in and now, finally, he is.
Following strong performances for Essex in county cricket and injuries to Cummins and Hazlewood, Siddle received a surprise call-up for Australia’s two Test series against Pakistan in UAE. He travels with the squad today and although the make-up of the team for the first Test in Dubai is yet to be decided, it would be no surprise if Siddle lines up for his 63rd appearance in the Baggy Green. Australia could certainly do with his experience right now.
If he does play against Pakistan, he is certainly in the sort of form with which to make the opportunity count. In two stints with Essex this summer, he has taken 37 Championship wickets at 16 with three five-wicket hauls. It follows a brilliant Big Bash campaign at the start of the year for eventual winners Adelaide Strikers where he played a vital role in helping them secure their first T20 title.
“A strong Big Bash gave me a lot of confidence and then playing a bit more cricket in England after being injured has helped,” Siddle says in an interview with Cricbuzz before his call-up. “Getting more cricket under my belt is starting to pay dividends. [The stats are] showing that I can still perform at the highest level and am putting the ball in the right place. I could definitely still be doing that at international level.”
Siddle’s last appearance for Australia was the first Test against South Africa in Perth in 2016 which the visitors won, setting them up for a 2-1 series victory. The fall-out from that defeat was severe with a raft of new players being introduced for the dead rubber third Test after the South Africans had already sealed the series. It felt like a changing of the guard and Siddle was no longer included.
He did not, however, retire from the international game. Playing for Australia, he says, has “always been my number one goal and that won’t change until I retire” but he admits he initially focussed too much on getting back into the Test team, to the detriment of his own form. However, as a Test recall seemed unlikely, he was able to reassess his priorities and look simply to enjoy the game once again.
“The big thing in the past 12 months is that I’ve concentrated a lot more than I probably have previously on not being too focused about getting back into the Australian side,” he says. “Instead, I’ve tried to focus on the games I am playing in.
“Over the last year, my attitude has been that I’ve got to be on the park and performing for whatever side I’m playing for. I’m enjoying cricket. The last twelve months, I’ve had a lot of fun. I’ve played some of my better cricket and over here this summer, I’ve put in some of my best performances in a very long time. That’s the pleasing thing.”
The series in the UAE will be Australia’s first since the ball-tampering incident in South Africa earlier this year. It is Justin Langer’s first red-ball tour as Head Coach while they will be without the banned Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft. “The disappointment of South Africa was deflating but it’s been hard that the boys haven’t been able to get back out there and play,” Siddle says.
“We’ve had such a long winter without any international games so until we get back out there and playing Test cricket again, whatever the new look side is, let’s get back to being judged on performances rather than past incidents.”
Did he think the 12 month punishments handed down to Smith and Warner and the nine months given to Bancroft were harsh? “I think you’re always going to think it’s a bit harsh, more to the point that it’s a bit harsh because we knew what the previous penalties had been. It happened against a South African team where their captain had been done twice for it but had only ever missed one match so that’s what made it so harsh.
“But I understand where Cricket Australia are coming from as well. They wanted to take a stand in ball tampering. As we’ve seen the ICC have put different perimeters on it. Time will tell whether it was the right sized punishment. It’s always going to feel like it was a bit harsh. They’re my good mates so you don’t want to see them out of the game for so long but maybe for the greater good of the game, those punishments will be rewarded in that the game will be cleaned up.”
Away from the national set-up, Siddle has certainly made an impact on Essex so much so that they have given him a new two year contract. How much they will see him next year remains to be seen, however, as he is surely going to be in Australia’s thoughts for the Ashes. With his vast experience of English conditions and his ability to pitch the ball up consistently and find movement, he will be hard to ignore. He certainly feels comfortable bowling in England.
“I’ve always enjoyed the English conditions.,” he says. “For the last couple of summers back home, we have used the Dukes ball for the back half of our seasons so adapting to the ball isn’t perhaps as difficult as it has been in the past. It’s length which is the big change in England. The pitches aren’t quite as quick and as bouncy as back home so you want to pitch the ball up.
“The benefits of a bit of seam and swing movement over here is a massive bonus for the bowlers. Trying to hit the stumps is the big thing here as well. You can get a lot of bowled and LBWs by pitching the ball up with a bit of seam movement. If you put it in the right areas, you will get results.”
Should Siddle end up playing for Australia in next year’s Ashes, he could come up against his Essex teammate Jamie Porter. Called-up for England’s squad for the initial stages of the series against India, Porter has impressed the Australian. “He’s a tremendous bowler that knows his game well,” Siddle says. “He’s going to be a star for a long time.” The pair have taken the new ball for Essex and have spent time discussing game scenarios, working out batsmen, talking about how to bowl in certain conditions. It will have been invaluable for the young Englishman.
There is, however, talk – much of it misguided – that Porter isn’t quick enough for Test level but that’s not something Siddle has much truck with. “At times, pace definitely helps,” he says. “But someone like James Anderson has made a career out of bowling mid 130kphs which proves you don’t have to be super quick. He’s had success in Australia, overseas in India and the subcontinent.
“Jamie could definitely be successful at the higher level for sure. I’ve played in games this season like when he cleaned up Lancashire at Chelmsford on a flat dry wicket that didn’t offer a hell of a lot. It’s just about getting an opportunity. He’s definitely hungry for it so I know if he does get his opportunity, he will be able to step up.”
As much as Porter is hungry to play for England, Siddle is the same to play for Australia. Although his call-up for the UAE may have been unexpected, there is no doubt that he will be doing everything he can to stay in contention. “I still want to play for Australia. I still have that drive to represent my country,” he says.
“It’s bringing out the best of me in whatever tournament I am playing in. If I got to a stage where I wasn’t performing, there would be a lot of pressure to move on but while I am still performing, I want to keep playing for as long as I can. I’ve got a good few years still to go.”