The text message that kept Siddle’s dream alive
Peter Siddle discusses the frustration of the 2015 Ashes tour, his relationship with Justin Langer and how he thought he’d never play Test cricket again
Andrew Ramsey in Birmingham
28 July 2019, 05:13 PM AEST
Justin Langer received uncomfortably clear confirmation of the fighting qualities within Peter Siddle when the raw young quick played his first Sheffield Shield game more than a dozen years ago.
But it was with bat, rather than shiny new ball in hand that the then 22-year-old came to the attention of the current men's team coach, who has remained an enduring presence in Siddle's career ever since.
As Langer's Western Australia pressed for victory at the MCG in a 2006-07 match the recently retired Test opener had dominated (scoring 108 and 99), Siddle hung in for more than an hour to salvage a draw in partnership with Victoria's number 11 batter, Darren Pattinson (older brother of Australia quick, James Pattinson).
Langer might have cursed Siddle's doggedness that afternoon, but when he was appointed Test team batting coach soon after, he forged a strong bond with Siddle.
It's no surprise, therefore, that in pulling together his first Ashes squad since taking over the senior coaching role last year, Langer has called on the services of the now 34-year-old Siddle who has become something of a master at bowling in English conditions.
For his part, Siddle credits Langer for helping to keep the competitive flame kindling within him after a frustrating 2015 Ashes tour and then a serious back injury the following year that left him doubting if he would ever again don his treasured Baggy Green Cap.
Having spent more than 12 months regaining fitness and form, Siddle took up a playing contract with county team Essex in 2018, not long after Langer assumed the role of national coach.
Siddle recalled today how a simple, single line text message that arrived from Langer after the seamer turned in another impressive performance for Essex was sufficient to reboot his quest to play more Tests.
"He said 'just remember that every game counts' … and that's what I've done," Siddle said, a day after learning of his inclusion in Australia's 17-man squad for the Ashes series that gets underway at Edgbaston on Thursday.
"I'm definitely bowling a lot better than I ever have in these (English) conditions, and that's the best thing I bring to this team now.
"I know I've done well. I've got a pretty good record in Ashes Test matches in England, but through my experience over the last couple of years (with Essex) I've learned a lot of new skills.
"So I think I can play a big part in this series."
It's a vastly different mindset to that which Siddle carried during the latter stages of his previous Ashes tour to the UK, in 2015.
Having shown his suitability to bowling with the Dukes brand ball in English conditions during a term with county team Nottinghamshire the previous northern summer, Siddle was seen as a perfect fit for the crucial fourth Test of the 2015 Ashes campaign at his former home ground, Trent Bridge.
On a humid, cloudy morning with the pitch that Siddle knew so well showing a seamer's delight, he was overlooked and watched from the dressing room as his Notts teammate Stuart Broad tore through Australia in the first session to claim 8-15.
As Siddle remembers, it was the lowest point of a cricket career that has known its share of setbacks.
"It was very tough, it's probably one of the toughest times," Siddle said today.
"I know injuries are always a tough thing, you can deal with that and it's not too bad.
"But I think missing out on opportunities … you always believe you should be picked, that's how you should feel, but when you see conditions that are suited to you, that's when it hurts the most.
"I remember at Trent Bridge just after being told I wasn't part of that Test match, the boys were warming up and I went and had a conversation with Punter (Ricky Ponting, working as a television commentator) out in the middle of the field.
"We were looking at the wicket and he couldn’t believe that I wasn't playing, and that's when I said to him 'if I'm not getting picked here, I don't think I'll ever get picked again'.
"And that was the honest truth - I thought at that time I mightn't get another opportunity to play."
As events transpired, fellow quick Josh Hazlewood was ruled out of the final Test at The Oval two weeks later and Siddle was recalled, taking six wickets in Australia's consolation win by an innings and 46 runs.
However, barely six months later, Siddle was sidelined with stress fractures in his back and that problem flared again later in 2016 when he took the opportunity to also undergo surgery on an ankle problem that had long plagued him.
Given he was already on the far side of 30, and had struggled to reach his previous bowling speeds immediately prior to the injury, Siddle understood there was a strong chance his days of playing international cricket were done.
But ever the optimist, he also viewed the enforced break as a chance to reset the clock and refocus his aspirations.
"That last injury I had when I wrecked my ankle and hurt my back at the same time, it probably came at the right time," Siddle said.
"I think if it had of been a year or two later, it would have been hard to come back from there, and I probably would have been done.
"But it gave me just a little chance, a little window to have another crack at trying to represent Australia.
"I had a good 15 months where I could freshen up and get it 100 per cent right and get fit, which I hadn’t been in a long time, to a position now where I think I'm consistently hitting good (bowling) speeds."
What Siddle has also learned from his time in county cricket – firstly alongside Broad at Nottinghamshire, and now with ex-England Test skipper Sir Alastair Cook at Essex – is to never discount a player on the basis of age.
He points to James Anderson, England's all-time leading Test wicket-taker who turns 37 on Tuesday, as the shining example of a fast bowler who has proved even more potent in the autumn years of his career.
It's not only the skills that Anderson has honed throughout a 16-year Test career that serve him so well, but also his capacity to read and react to all manner of ambient and match conditions, Siddle believes.
And that's a trait that he shares with 33-year-old Broad, England's second-highest all-time Test wicket-taker and the other half of the most successful new-ball pairing the game has seen.
Siddle claimed that if he and his fellow Australia quicks can emulate the skills and the smarts of Anderson and Broad, they could be well on the way to their first Ashes series win on British soil since 2001.
"(Anderson) plays the conditions well, he understands the overheads, the wickets, what it looks like, the times that they're bowling," Siddle said.
"He knows whether to be really aggressive and try to take wickets, or hold back a little bit and try to contain and build pressure and get wickets as a team.
"I think that's one of the big keys in England.
"When I've played my stints on the county circuit, that's the main basis of the team set-up.
"If the conditions are right you be can really aggressive and try and take wickets, and then there are other times when the sun's out and the wicket has dulled a little bit, and there mightn't be as much happening.
"So you might have to be patient and build pressure.
"He and Broad together have shown, over the years, that by doing that they can have great results and I think that's something we can take out of it.
"Their game plan - we can try and mimic that throughout this series, and I think the closer we can get to being like that gives us our best chance."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
Tour match: Australians v Worcestershire, August 7-9
Second Test: August 14-18,Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval