Captain's go-to man Siddle in thick of it again

AROUND lunchtime, the songlines of Peter Siddle began to show up on the wicket at Bellerive. Bowlers' footmarks usually tail off to the side of the wicket. Siddle's were unique: a dark signature of seven distinct prints bearing down on the batsman's end.

None of this contravened the rules about running on the danger area of the wicket - just as the umpires found no evidence for the insinuations of seam-picking. Rather, like a set of rubber skidmarks running through an intersection, Siddle's trail of footmarks told the story of unstoppable energy.

Crowds love him, even when, as in this match, they number in the hundreds. Their affection has as much to do with his run-up as his delivery. Where other bowlers strive for rhythm, Siddle goes for broke. John Arlott's description of the late Sam Loxton would suit him well: ''He is a fast-medium bowler of no great subtlety, but he is always endeavouring to bowl the fastest ball ever bowled.''

Perhaps the comparison sells Siddle short, as he has introduced a variety into his bowling that has transformed him from a likeable zinc-creamed carthorse into a vicious war-painted spearhead.

A student yesterday topped the NSW Higher School Certificate in three languages; after tea, Siddle spoke fluently in the three fast bowling tongues of swing, cut and change of pace.

He made every area a danger area when he was bowling at the southern end of the wicket. His faster balls carried at admirable height to the wicketkeeper. His slower ones ran along the ground.

After tea, when things were getting more than a little tense, he bowled a consistent full-length outswing with a newish ball, setting the batsmen up for the away-swinger's nasty little brother, the in-ducker. This combination turned the match with the wickets of the last two batting specialists, Angelo Mathews and Thilan Samaraweera. When Mitchell Starc chimed in with a late, late show of late, late inswing, Australia had its successful endgame at last.

Until tea, it had been far from a sure thing, with Australia unable to squeeze more than two wickets from 57 overs. In the field it had a determined conviviality that became more determined, and less convivial, as the Sri Lankans' defiance continued. Was it Adelaide again? Sri Lanka's champion left-hander, Kumar Sangakkara, survived 225 balls and two video reversals before Siddle got him. But even with Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene out - also snicking Siddle - Sri Lanka had a second line of resistance.

Samaraweera had, of course, survived much worse. To paraphrase Keith Miller, pressure on a cricket field is nothing compared to a terrorist's bullet in the thigh. But Samaraweera the batsman also had a point to prove. His Test average of 50 owed little to his previous performances against Australia. Children in the crowd had been asking for his autograph while he was fielding on Monday. Their second question was, 'What's your name?'

They should know now, as his 140-ball fight was his best performance against this opponent and almost saved the match. With the ball shooting, Samaraweera was orthodox and attentive, ready to ram his bat down like a plumber with his plunger.

He frustrated Michael Clarke into exasperation and then eccentricity. The last over before tea was bowled by Matthew Wade, in hopes of emulating Alfred Lyttelton, the English wicketkeeper who took 4-19 in 1884 bowling underarm lobs with his pads on. Lyttelton's prize wicket was Billy Midwinter, caught behind by makeshift wicketkeeper W.G. Grace, who said Midwinter hadn't hit it, ''but I had no time to prevent the umpire giving his decision, so Midwinter had to go''.

Alas, there was no such reward for Wade, who had to be content with a speed gun flattering his fastest ball as a Glenn McGrath-like 132.1km/h. Any more sycophancy like that, and the speed gun will get its tweets shown on the scoreboard.

So at tea, Sri Lanka still had six wickets in hand. Clarke had taken a risk by using Siddle lightly, saving him for a late burst. Rain delays in the middle session had kept the batsmen's concentration fresh.

The bowling team emerged from the break on that cusp where hope meets dread. Clarke gave Siddle the ball. Like the best fast bowlers, Siddle would make his captain's gamble look like an act of genius.

Australia's win was white-knuckled but significant in its development. Sri Lanka is a very good batting team, and Australia dismissed it while one bowler short. The Australians let those ghosts of Adelaide into their heads, and chased them away.

In fitness and in form, they go to Melbourne in a fragmentary state. But they will tell you there is no better medicine than a team song after a long wait.

This story Captain's go-to man Siddle in thick of it again first appeared on WA Today.