After the first Ashes Test of the summer, Peter Siddle, on his fourth tour of England and playing his sixth Ashes series overall, spoke to Jo Harman about a decade of going toe-to-toe with the old enemy in issue of 23 of Wisden Cricket Monthly.
Peter Siddle doesn’t come across as the type of bloke who spends much time Googling himself but if he did he’d discover the first suggested search item is ‘Peter Siddle bananas’. It’s not really a fair reflection on the 34-year-old seamer’s prolific and extraordinarily durable career that his dietary habits (he revealed in 2013 he was eating around 20 bananas a day) are searched more regularly than his on-field achievements, but it’s indicative of a career in which he’s often slipped under the radar, despite being a regular fixture in the Ashes for more than a decade.
The ongoing Ashes series is his fourth in England – more than any other Aussie pace bowler since the War – and his sixth overall. Between 2009 and 2014 he didn’t miss a Test against England, playing 20 on the bounce, and more than a third of his 216 wickets, and four of his eight five-wicket hauls, have come against the old enemy.
Whether it’s his five-wicket burst on day one at Headingley in 2009 that blew the series wide open, or his birthday hat-trick at a cacophonous Gabba the following year, or embedding himself like a virus in Kevin Pietersen’s brain during the series that ultimately finished his England career, or, most recently, adding 88 vital runs with Steve Smith at Edgbaston to help turn a losing situation into a winning one, Siddle’s is a career stitched around the Ashes.
2009: England 2-1 Australia
Siddle: Five matches, 20 wickets at 30.80, one five-wicket haul, BBI 5-21
I was just so excited. My first Ashes series and to play it in England probably made it that little bit more exciting. That’s the home of cricket, and plenty did go on. We played really good cricket for the whole of the first Test at Cardiff, except for probably the last 45 minutes when we couldn’t bowl out Monty [Panesar] or Jimmy [Anderson] to get that last wicket. But we were very positive at the end of that match. We felt in a good place and thought that was going to be a good series for us, but then things turned pretty quickly.
It was special to take my first Ashes five-for at Headingley [in an innings win for Australia which levelled the series 1-1 before England took back the Ashes by winning the decider at The Oval]. Before that I’d done OK but personally that gave me a lot of confidence that I could have an impact in the series and for Australia in the future.
You look back at the stats from that series and we had the leading run-scorers and the leading wicket-takers but Test cricket, and Ashes cricket especially, comes down to making the most of those key moments and that’s something that we just didn’t do throughout that series, except at Headingley when the conditions suited us.
2010/11: Australia 1-3 England
Siddle: Five matches, 14 wickets at 34.57, two five-wicket hauls, BBI 6-54
Taking a hat-trick on day one of the series at the Gabba, and to do it on my birthday, is one of my greatest highlights. There’s not too many times I’m going to be able to better that. I’d been out for about nine months with injury previous to that so I hadn’t played a lot of cricket. To start on such a high, and to stamp a bit of authority on the series, was exciting for me personally. But it went a little bit downhill from there!
It was a pretty hot summer and we were just chasing ball after ball after ball. Alastair [Cook] destroyed us. KP was in fine form. They wore us down and that showed over the course of the series. I played in all five matches and it did take a lot out of the guys.
It was tough for Mitchell [Johnson]. Times like that can be the hardest time to approach your teammates but you’re always there to support your boys and it’s the best opportunity to just let them know you’re there. The on-field stuff wasn’t going his way, the Barmy Army were out in force, and it did make for a tough tour.
The English boys, credit to them, put us to the sword out in the middle and caused a lot of havoc. At times you’re going to come up against dominant teams and dominant players and Alastair’s series in Australia was one for the ages. There’s not too many blokes that have ever had a series like that against anyone in world cricket. Yes, it was tough times, but credit has to be paid to the opposition when they perform so well.
2013: England 3-0 Australia
Siddle: Five matches, 17 wickets at 31.58, one five-wicket haul, BBI 5-50
There were two new captains in Alastair and Michael Clarke but I don’t think it changed too much because the personnel hadn’t changed a lot. Both squads knew each other pretty well and we knew how to prepare to play each other. We had some good battles.
The sacking of Mickey [Arthur, Australia’s coach who was fired less than three weeks before the startof the series] was tough. Boof [Darren Lehmann] had been with the Aussie A team which I’d been involved with leading into the series and we didn’t have much idea that he was going to take over. It was a little bit awkward but I think we handled it well considering how close to the series it was and how close the group had become with Mickey.
I’ve played county cricket for Notts since and Trent Bridge is a beautiful ground to play at, so to take five wickets on day one of the series, when I had my family in the crowd, was pretty special. I thought we were always in with a chance in that match [England eventually won by 14 runs] and day five was do-or-die. Someone had to be a hero but it wasn’t to be. It was real close, but not close enough.
Of all the Ashes series I’ve played in, it was probably the quietest and least exciting. I don’t think the atmosphere was there quite as much as it has been in other series. We didn’t put in great performances and that probably took a little bit of the sting out of it. The English didn’t really need to get behind their boys as much because we weren’t putting on a good show.
Growing up with Australia being so dominant over a long period of time, you just get used to winning. But it’s not always going to be like that. After three Ashes series and three defeats, I was asking myself whether I was actually going to get to win one.
2013/14: Australia 5-0 England
Siddle: Five matches, 16 wickets at 24.12, BBI 4-57
There was a lot of talk about us ‘getting tough’ for this series, but that’s just the way we play. We’ve always played like that and it probably just stands out more when we win and dominate matches. That’s when people make a big deal out of it. We just were a strong squad with a lot to prove and we had some blokes who were in unbelievable form.
When you’ve got someone on top and firing like Mitchell [Johnson] was throughout that series, it’s very easy as a bowler to get on the back of that – to charge in and get the job done. And I think that showed. He was bowling fast. I’ve spent a lot of time with some of the English guys since and at times they were scared – it was some of the quickest bowling they’d ever faced, and some of the quickest bowling I’ve ever played with and alongside. We went unchanged throughout that whole series, which is pretty much unheard of in international cricket.
I’d had a bit of success against KP previous to that series. While Mitchell was bowling fast and putting the pressure on them, KP was one player who we could exploit the opposite way. I was obviously the slower bowler out of the three of us and we set good fields, played on his ego a bit by giving him an opportunity to score against me, and it worked. I could crack him a lot earlier than we expected.
It might come across as mean but you don’t really care about the opposition when you’re immersed in the game and the contest. You’re going out there to win every day, every match, to get the end result – which is to win the Ashes. You look back on it now and obviously feel for guys like Trotty [Jonathan Trott], and probably more so now there’s a lot more out in the open around mental health in professional sport. But at the time you’re not worrying about that. You’re solely worrying about performing each day to succeed.
2015: England 3-2 Australia
Siddle: One match, six wickets at 11.16, BBI 4-35
This was probably the most disappointing series that I’ve had individually. Missing opportunities at places that I thought I would have played was hard to take. I wasn’t a regular in the side by this point so I understood not starting the series, but when it came to the third and fourth Tests at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, two wickets that were prepared on the greenish side to put us under pressure, I thought I would have played. I spoke to Ricky Ponting at the time and said, ‘If I’m not playing here, I don’t think I’ll ever get a chance to play again’. At that time I had that gut feel.
There was a little bit of frustration when I came in for the final match at The Oval [with England already having taken an unassailable lead in the series] and took those wickets [match figures of 6-67 in an innings victory]. But it was more joy that when I got my opportunity I could perform. There’d been a lot of talk whether I was still up to it but I had a lot of confidence in my own ability and I knew that my game and style of play is very much suited to English conditions. I knew if I’d got that opportunity earlier I could have played a bigger part in the series, but it wasn’t to be.
And so to Edgbaston, 2019. After fighting back from career-threatening back and ankle injuries which effectively ruled him out of the 2017/18 series, Siddle’s selection ahead of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood for the first Test raised some eyebrows. It came as no great surprise to Siddle, though, who says he “could not have been in a better place” leading into the match, having found his groove playing county cricket for Essex.
After overlooking him to their cost in 2015, Australia weren’t going to make the same mistake twice. Siddle’s bowling was faultless at Edgbaston, removing Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow and conceding runs at less than two an over in the first innings, while his return of 12-2-28-0 in the second dig was described by coach Justin Langer as “the best none-for I’ve ever seen”.
The Victorian’s batting was even more influential, his Ashes-best 44 helping Australia from 122-8 to 284 all out and setting the tone for a dramatic turnaround to put the tourists 1-0 up in the series. Siddle concedes this series will almost certainly be his last against England but, 22 matches and 75 wickets in, his Ashes story may still have a few pages left to run.
“I’m 35 in November so it’s going to be a bit of wishful thinking to have another crack at you guys next time round,” he says. “I’m just enjoying it. Go back two years ago, to the home season when I was only just coming back from injury, I wasn’t thinking too far ahead. So to be here now, getting another opportunity to represent my country, to play in an Ashes series in England, I’m just living a childhood dream.”
This article first appeared in issue 23 of Wisden Cricket Monthly.