Yorkshire cricket is back where it belongs and, as Chris Waters reports, there is no one wearing a broader smile than Ryan Sidebottom.
SOMETIMES the simple factors are the most significant.
Asked to reflect on Yorkshire’s promotion back to the First Division of the County Championship, Ryan Sidebottom said something that perhaps explains why they succeeded in getting there.
The former England pace bowler was pondering the effect of the new coaching set-up – in particular the arrival of ex-Australia pace man Jason Gillespie as first team coach – when he said the following... “When Dizzy and the new coaching staff came in at the start of the year, they just encouraged us to go out and enjoy it.
“I don’t think we did that last year, and this year has seen a 100-fold improvement in terms of how much we have enjoyed our cricket.”
On a scale of complicated coaching strategies, the instruction to “go out and enjoy it” does not embrace the realms of rocket science.
And yet that simple, seemingly inconsequential element has perhaps been the single biggest reason – beyond the obvious aspect of the players’ talent and dedication – why Yorkshire are back in Division One.
In a nutshell, they have enjoyed their cricket – something encouraged by a coach for whom enjoyment is essential.
“Last year wasn’t ideal, but Dizzy has made his mark on the way we go about things,” added Sidebottom.
“His philosophy is to keep things simple and to say that if you prepare right and stick to your processes, then everything else will fall into place.
“I think he’s done a great job, along with all the coaches, and I think we’ve had an outstanding season.
“We set our goals at the start of the year to get promoted in the Championship and to reach Twenty20 Finals Day, and we’ve done both, which is fantastic.”
They could not have done it without Sidebottom, who, at 34, shows no sign of winding down and calling for his rocking chair and carpet slippers.
On the contrary, the left-armer’s burning passion for cricket – and for Yorkshire cricket in particular – protrudes from every bone in his body.
“I’ve still got a couple of years left on my contract and I want to play for as long as possible,” he added.
“As a lot of players have alluded to over the years, you are a long time retired and I want to continue playing for a good while yet.
“I’m delighted to still be able to contribute and, if I feel that I’m bowling as well as everybody else, I will carry on as long as I can.
“I still love cricket and playing for Yorkshire.”
There is another motivating factor looming large on the horizon.
With 561 first-class wickets under his belt, Sidebottom is closing in on the 596 garnered by his father, Arnie, who also gave distinguished service to his beloved Yorkshire.
“One of the biggest remaining aims in my career is to overhaul my dad’s wicket-taking total,” admitted Sidebottom.
“I’m still a few short, but I’m starting to close in on it now.
“To follow in dad’s footsteps, and to achieve what he achieved, would be absolutely brilliant.
“It is one of the things that spurs me on.”
Although Sidebottom junior has achieved more than most in the game, he shows no sign of resting on his laurels.
He has been hampered by injuries this season, which goes a long way towards explaining why his return of 24 Championship wickets at 33.25 did not match the stellar heights of 2011, when he took 62 wickets at 22.00.
“I’m my own biggest critic and I think my dad’s probably the second biggest, but although I’ve bowled well in the Championship this year I’ve not taken the wickets I would have liked,” he reflected.
“Injuries haven’t helped, but it’s one of those things.
“In many ways, it’s a pity that the season has ended now because I’m feeling great and the body feels good.
“I still feel I have a lot to offer.”
Although he would have liked more victims, Sidebottom was still Yorkshire’s third-highest wicket-taker in this year’s Championship.
However, he is quick to point out that promotion was a communal achievement.
“I think everybody has contributed at some stage or other,” he said.
“We’ve gone from strength to strength and everything seems to be moving the right way.
“We forget there’s a lot of young lads in the team and they’ve only played for two or three years, and they will only get better as time goes on. It’s outstanding what talent we have, to be honest, and there’s maybe five or six lads who could go all the way and get international honours.”
What Yorkshire will always have – no matter what division they are playing in or how well they are playing – is a loyal army of passionate supporters.
Indeed, there is no more loyal – or demanding – fan base in the country.
For Sidebottom, that support has come to the fore in recent weeks and been a source of encouragement and inspiration to the players.
He said the dressing room was very grateful.
“The support we’ve had this year has been fantastic and we can’t thank the fans enough,” he said.
“Their hearts are always in the right place and they always want us to do well.
“I think it showed in the Twenty20 final with the amount of support we got; I personally got hundreds of messages on Twitter saying “well done” and “congratulations” and people saying how proud they were of the team and the cricket that we’d played.
“I know how much they’ve enjoyed it and we’re delighted to have given them something to smile about.”
No one, however, is smiling more than Sidebottom at present.
Enjoying his cricket and Gillespie’s influence, he cuts a contented figure on-and-off the field.
“It’s just great fun at the moment,” added Sidebottom.
For player and club, that fun could be set to continue for a good while yet.