Warwickshire v Yorkshire: Sidebottom still packs a punch as Yorkshire pull further away at the top
MARK FOOTITT may be the closest thing England possess to a left-arm pace bowler to match the blistering speed of Australia’s Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc – but the best southpaw in the country is still Ryan Sidebottom.
It is five-and-a-half years since Sidebottom played the last of his 22 Tests, which brought him 79 wickets at 28, and he announced his retirement from international cricket in September 2010 to see out the rest of his career with Yorkshire.
Since then, Sidebottom has taken 204 County Championship wickets for the club in 57 games at an average of 21.41 - 11 of them at Edgbaston this week.
It is some going for a man who turns 38 in January, and whose skill and stamina shows no sign of fading.
As Yorkshire won by 174 runs to move 24 points clear with a game in hand on second-placed Middlesex, Sidebottom provided the main inspiration.
Having taken the first six wickets in the first innings, he captured the first four in the second innings too, thus snaring key victims on both occasions.
His outstanding bowling - as Yorkshire recorded their sixth Championship win of the season, and their fourth in succession - was the equivalent of dynamite blowing open a safe.
With entry duly gained, it was over to his colleagues to help complete the raid as Yorkshire deposited more points into their swag bag.
“Ryan was sensational,” said first team coach Jason Gillespie after Sidebottom returned match figures of 11-76, the second-best of his career behind 11-43 against Kent at Headingley in 2000.
“It was just the ruthless line and length that he bowled; he kept hitting that shoebox on a length and attacking that off stump, and he hit the off stump a few times as well.
“Ryan’s days of playing for his country are over, but he absolutely loves playing for Yorkshire and just keeps on going.
“All the other lads in the dressing room look up to him and he leads from the front; what more can you ask from a senior player?”
Once more, Gillespie found himself repeating a common mantra - namely, that Yorkshire can still get better despite the fact they are clearly the best in the league.
“We’ve definitely got improvements to make,” he said. “Our top-order batting needs to be better, and a lot of the dismissals again were avoidable.
“Warwickshire bowled well, but we gifted a few wickets. We need to be better in that respect.”
The emphatic margin of victory was primarily down to Sidebottom after Yorkshire scored only 213 in their first innings.
It was a poor display - a performance salvaged entirely by Jonny Bairstow’s brilliant 108 - and it could have been costly.
As it was, Sidebottom destroyed the Warwickshire top-order and Jack Brooks supported him well as the hosts crashed to 37-9 in reply, needing 64 to avoid the follow-on.
They somehow scrambled to 69 all out, and after Yorkshire declared on 289-7 on the third evening, thereby setting an entirely unrealistic 434 to win, Sidebottom set the tone for a result that left the club odds-on to successfully defend their title.
Having removed Varun Chopra lbw with the fourth ball of the innings on Tuesday evening, Sidebottom took two wickets in three balls half-an-hour into the final morning.
The dangerous Jonathan Trott was bowled around his legs and Laurie Evans palpably lbw as Warwickshire fell to 58-3.
After Sidebottom completed his spell from the Pavilion End, Yorkshire missed two chances to dismiss opener Ian Westwood.
Aaron Finch dropped him on 29 at second slip off Steve Patterson, and Jack Leaning grassed him on 30 at third slip in the next over from Tim Bresnan - a straightforward opportunity at chest height.
But after rain forced an early lunch, pinching four overs from the day’s allocation, Yorkshire got Westwood finally when Sidebottom - who else? - trapped him lbw for 40.
Steve Patterson took the fifth wicket, Peter McKay edging to Finch at second slip, and Yorkshire knew it was their day when Rikki Clarke was caught off the full face of the bat by Leaning at short-leg off spinner James Middlebrook.
As in the first innings, Warwickshire did not help themselves.
Jeetan Patel played a wretched stroke in the circumstances, slapping Brooks straight to cover to leave the hosts 189-7, but Sam Hain, a 19-year-old born in Hong Kong and mainly raised in Australia, showed somewhat more of a survival instinct.
Hain top-scored with 106 from 195 balls with 17 fours and a six before he was last out, lbw to Bresnan.
The ninth wicket had fallen to Sidebottom, his fifth of the innings, as Oliver Hannon-Dalby saw his stumps disturbed by the oldest - and still finest - left-arm swinger in town.