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Cricket news - The plant-powered Siddle that won't peter out
Peter Siddle is in a happy place, and why not. Here he is still running in ball after ball at full steam just like he was in his Test debut at Mohali in 2008, when he snared Sachin Tendulkar as his maiden victim. Here he is proudly living life on his own terms as a purely plant-powered athlete, mixing and matching his protein-shake concoctions--bananas, spinach, muesli, blueberries with chia seeds in coconut milk is the find of the tour. Here he is on his fourth Ashes trip, spread over a period of 10 years, the only Aussie fast bowler to do so apart from Dennis Lillee. He's also never been happier in an Australian dressing room. Little wonder he is perennially with a smile on his face.
"Yeah, I have been around a while, haven't I?" he says chuckling after interrupting a question about his longevity and its link to being a rare modern-day cricketer who lives out of the bubble of professional sport. "The perspective I have got from talking about other things has probably made me a friendlier person, even though I was a happy person anyway. People always said I looked angry and I came across grumpy on the field but the perspective has totally changed how I come across as a person, my personality and who I am as a person."
Siddle started in the Ponting era, starred in the Clarke era, faded away in the Smith era, and is now back to his best in the Paine era. His journey has overseen a number of transformations in Australian cricket, both in terms of how they play the sport and who's playing it. The 34-year-old is after all the lone survivor in the squad from the one that toured here in 2009. And after enduring three Ashes series defeats on English soil, Siddle is feeling good about his team's chances this time around, notwithstanding the comprehensive victory at Edgbaston last week.
Those last two failures in 2013 and 2015 came during Darren Lehmann's tenure as coach. Lehmann had recently admitted that not playing Siddle for more than a solitary Test--the fifth at The Oval--four years ago was his "fault". But it was under the former coach that Siddle's Test career began to slip, especially after Lehmann publicly brought up the "drop in pace" and made it very clear that he wanted his veteran pacer bowling at "140 kph and not averaging 131 and 132" as he was in 2014. But with the focus of the Australian attack now having shifted to control and discipline, it's no surprise that Siddle is back and enjoying his cricket under the new Justin Langer-led regime.
"I think it's the most relaxed and comfortable I've been," he tells Cricbuzz. "I know my game so well, so things don't worry me too much. The other day (in Birmingham) I didn't get any wickets in the second innings, even though I know I bowled really well. As a young bloke I would have been down but I'm just loving being around the side and loving being able to help the guys. JL and I have always been reasonably close over the years just with different things. Last year we were in touch a lot even though I wasn't around the side."
Ever since Mitchell Johnson tore through England in the 2013-14 Ashes at home, the Australian management under Lehmann had developed a fixation for pace. And Siddle admits that they might have got it wrong, especially in England.
"I think over the few tours when I've come here, we haven't prepared the right way. Sometimes we've gone too pace heavy where we thought we could blast out the opposition or we thought we could swing the ball around corners, and that's what was going to win it."
The solution to what might work in these conditions, he reveals, was staring them in the face all along. They simply had to look at what had worked for the two most successful bowlers on English soil, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, who are also the only other players still around from Siddle's first England tour a decade ago.
"They run in, they swing the ball a little bit, they nibble the ball a little more but they don't try and swing it too much or seam it too much. I think we've put a good focus on that. If you look at our squad, there are predominantly bowlers who try and do that. Josh (Hazlewood) and I are probably pretty similar, just different heights. (Michael) Neser's in the same boat and then you have Patty (Cummins) and Jimmy Patto (Pattinson), who are very consistent bowlers albeit with a little more pace and then you still have Starcy, who can swing the ball early on and gets a lot out of the wickets here in England. So we've got a good group of bowlers and our plans and our patience have definitely improved a lot compared to the past series."
Siddle also reveals how he and Pattinson have learnt a lot about using the wobbly and scrambled seam with great success through conversations with his "good mate" Broad during their respective stints at Nottinghamshire. The borrowing of knowhow and nous from the enemy camp extends to Siddle picking another Ashes legend's brains during his time with Essex, to get a better understanding of what it takes to win in England.
"We've learnt a lot from the England setup. I've chatted a lot with Alastair Cook this season, especially about playing cricket in England, and those little tips and bits of knowledge that you can get out of them have really helped us in our preparation."
Siddle agrees on it being a tad surreal that he's actually here, playing and contributing in an Ashes series. For, around three years ago in early 2016, he'd not only become an intermittent fixture in the Australian attack but also suffered a debilitating stress fracture in his back. He would return later that year to play a solitary Test against South Africa at Perth before being injured again and losing his spot completely as Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins settled as Australia's premier pace attack. But as Siddle insists, the 2019 Ashes was the one he'd "set his eyes on" while plotting his comeback. And even he admits to have not expected the recall last year for the series in the UAE, where he played his first Test in two years.
"Last summer was a big bonus, getting back into the side in the UAE and being around the team for all the Tests throughout the Australian summer. I wasn't playing much during the summer but to be back around the side gave me confidence that I had a good shout of being a part of this (the Ashes). I knew the age I was going to be for this Ashes series. It still gave me a chance to dream a bit and look ahead to this series."
Signing a two-season contract with Essex last year was the first part of Siddle's plan to get himself into the Ashes mix. It also gave him a chance to stay connected with Langer and give the coach constant feedback of what he was learning about English pitches and players during his time at Chelmsford, and in turn keep Langer abreast of his performances and how his body was going.
"Credit to Essex, I have a lot to thank them for because they've been great in the support they've given me over the last couple of years, especially this year when they knew how important it was for me to get selected (for the Ashes). They rested me for a game early on when I had a little bit of a niggle and they haven't put too much pressure on me. They wanted me to be right." Siddle of course has repaid them in good measure with 71 wickets at 18.16.
He goes back to when his body wasn't right three years ago, and in hindsight believes the injury couldn't have come at a better time. Despite being on the wrong side of 30, he insists on being more bowling fit and in better rhythm than he has in many years, having already played 11 first-class matches on the bounce in England this summer.
"I tore a couple of ligaments in my ankle (in 2016), which then caused my back to go because I played with it for too long. So I had a long time out because of that. In that time, I sort of thought about things a lot. I knew it was going to be hard work for me and it was just all about getting the body right. I came back too soon in the Aussie summer after that, played a Test match when I probably shouldn't have against South Africa and I was out straight away again, and I then missed most of that season. I had pretty much a good two years where there wasn't a lot of cricket and I was still at that age where I probably think it was good timing in a weird way. If it had been two years later, I probably would have had to retire. Those two years actually gave the body time to rest up, and I could freshen right up."
Siddle is very candid about how the dramatic changes he's made to his lifestyle over the last few years - since meeting his wife Anna Weatherlake - have turned his life around. In terms of giving his body a chance to "freshen up" he also brings up his decision to quit alcohol along with turning vegan.
"I was enjoying being a professional sportsman and probably got a little bit loose in my late 20s. I was at a stage where cricket was at a level where it got flooded over. So I decided to give up on the alcohol. It wasn't putting me in good positions."
And he takes pride in being in a position where he can openly talk about his beliefs, whether it has to do with the benefits of adopting a vegan diet or animal welfare. Siddle and Weatherlake have now hosted around 30-40 rescued dogs at their home, most of whom they've had adopted by family and friends - including Aaron Finch. They have five at the moment, one of whom, Oscar, carried the ring with which Siddle proposed to Weatherlake. Having these interests away from the game has allowed him to acknowledge and appreciate his life beyond the field while helping him deal with the fickleness of being a cricketer at the highest level.
"Being more relaxed on and off the field has taken the pressure, anxiety and stress of being a professional sportsman away. I've learnt to break it all down. When you get injured or get dropped, the one thing you know is that you can't change what happened. Like if you get injured, you can't change why you got injured. All you can do is prevent that from happening again. Same with selection. You've been dropped, no matter whether you like it or not, you can't change the selectors and coaches minds on why you've been dropped. So I focus on what I can do better and not whinging."
The only fast bowlers in the history of the game who have managed lengthy careers have been those who have constantly reinvented themselves at various stages of their careers, be it Dennis Lillee or Courtney Walsh, and more so when they are in their 30s. Siddle has been well aware of this.
"I know I am never going to be as quick as I was when I was younger. That just comes with it. There haven't been many fast bowlers who have been able to stay at their very best and at their top speeds, maybe Shoaib (Akhtar) and Brett Lee. You look at Dale Steyn, his game changed a lot from when he started. He's still an absolute superstar. I knew I just had to get better at being a lot more consistent. I've learnt a lot over the last couple of years in England."
And it's an avatar of Siddle that fits in perfectly with the new mindset around the Australian dressing-room in this Ashes series, which seems to be designed to build pressure and deny boundaries to the naturally aggressive English batting line-up. But ask Siddle about whether this new happy image has dimmed his natural aggression as a fast bowler in any way, and he shakes his head with a smile saying, "That's always there," and like with everything about him these days it's more about how it comes across.
"Learning different things over the years, the aggression has toned down a little bit but it doesn't change the time I get angry and want to bowl bouncers and get up the batsman. That still happens but probably doesn't come across looking too bad like it used to when I was a young, crazy kid."
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