FOR DRAMATIC impact, nothing in Ryan Sidebottom’s glittering career quite matched the triple-wicket maiden that he served up in the opening over of Yorkshire’s County Championship game against Middlesex at Lord’s three years ago.
Sidebottom’s remarkable salvo, which accounted for Paul Stirling, Nick Compton and Dawid Malan, helped Yorkshire to a 246-run win that saw them clinch the title for a second successive year.
But the triple-wicket burst for which the left-arm pace bowler is best remembered – at least in international terms – took place in New Zealand 10 years ago, where England’s cricketers are currently on tour.
In the opening Test at Hamilton in March 2008, Sidebottom dismissed Stephen Fleming, Mathew Sinclair and Jacob Oram to become only the 11th Englishman to take three wickets in three balls in Test cricket, a figure that has since risen to 14 after Stuart Broad did it against India at Trent Bridge in 2011 and against Sri Lanka at Headingley in 2014, followed by Moeen Ali against South Africa at the Oval last year.
Like Broad, Sidebottom – who retired at the end of last season after taking 1,053 wickets in a 20-year career – was a Notts player at the time of his historic performance.
He had left Yorkshire in 2004 before returning to his native county for the 2011 campaign, whereupon he proved that although his international days were by then behind him, his best years were arguably still to come, with Yorkshire benefiting from a man who seemed to get better with age.
Against New Zealand in Hamilton, Sidebottom, now 40, capped his second coming as an international player in sensational style.
Having been discarded after one Test against Pakistan in 2001, he returned to the England team in 2007 and then showed all his class in that New Zealand series, finishing leading wicket-taker with 24 at 17.08 as England came from 1-0 behind after losing in Hamilton to win 2-1 thanks to victories in Wellington and Napier.
Named man of the series and also man of the match in the decisive fixture in Napier, where he took Test-best figures of 7-47, Sidebottom was the difference between the teams.
It had been no less than Stephen Fleming – the first victim of the Hamilton hat-trick and his then county captain at Trent Bridge – had predicted, saying that the curly-haired bowler was the player to watch.
Fleming felt that Sidebottom’s consistency and cunning swing was going to be the greatest threat to the Kiwis’ batsmen.
By capturing 4-90 in the first innings at Hamilton, and then 6-49 in the second, thereby recording the only 10-wicket haul of his 22-Test career, Sidebottom proved how prescient that was.
The hat-trick arrived in New Zealand’s second innings when the hosts were chasing quick runs on the fourth afternoon.
After winning the toss, New Zealand had built an imposing first innings score of 470, featuring a maiden Test hundred from Ross Taylor.
I had always been consistent for England, but I think this is the game people will always think of. It was the only time I claimed 10 wickets in a Test and it was just really emotional.Ryan Sidebottom
Sidebottom’s first innings wickets were those of Fleming, Brendon McCullum, Jeetan Patel and Chris Martin on a slow-paced surface that challenged the bowlers.
The dismissals of Patel and Martin came from successive deliveries to end the innings, leaving Sidebottom on a hat-trick at the start of the Kiwis’ second innings too – something that the player admitted he had forgotten about when he ran in to bowl the opening ball to Jamie How, who survived intact.
Before that, England had replied with a painstaking first innings total of 348 from 173 overs, featuring 60s from captain Michael Vaughan and Paul Collingwood, which put the onus back on New Zealand if they wanted to convert three-and-a-half days of supremacy into victory.
But Sidebottom turned the match on its head with his hat-trick and spell of 4-5 in 12 balls as New Zealand plunged from 99-1 to 119-7 – including two wickets for left-arm spinner Monty Panesar – to leave the contest hanging in the balance.
Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand captain, hit a useful 35 from the No 8 position before becoming Sidebottom’s sixth and final victim early on the final day, at which point Vettori declared on 177-9 to leave England an even 300 to win from 81 overs.
Although Ian Bell hit 54 not out in a fighting performance, Alastair Cook (13) was the only other player to reach double figures as the tourists were routed for 110.
The spoils thus went to Vettori’s New Zealand, but to Sidebottom belonged the honour of the hat-trick feat.
Fleming, who claimed that the bowler’s devastating burst actually helped New Zealand by opening up a game that might otherwise have been drawn, was perhaps a tad unfortunate when he became the first victim, driving a full-length delivery outside off stump fiercely to Cook at point, who pulled off a brilliant catch, diving to his left.
Sinclair was the second victim, this time to an even better catch by Cook, who flew spectacularly to his left in the gully area.
The ball from Sidebottom had angled across the right-hander, and Sinclair rather slashed at it, sending it fizzing in the direction of the Essex batsman, who was mobbed by Sidebottom and jubilant team-mates.
Sidebottom’s hat-trick ball was summoned to order, swinging back into the left-handed Oram, who was adjudged lbw by umpire Daryl Harper after what seemed like an interminable wait.
“Once I’d appealed, I didn’t think he was going to put his finger up,” Sidebottom admitted after close of play.
He added: “I didn’t know what to do when he finally did; I just ran away like a headless chicken.”
Somewhere in the Seddon Park crowd were Sidebottom’s mother and father, with Arnie Sidebottom as proud as any man would be under the circumstances.
His own Test career had ended with just one cap, against Australia at Trent Bridge in 1985, and now he was savouring the second coming of a son who finished with 79 wickets at the highest level.
A few years later, Sidebottom junior reflected on his most celebrated display in Test cricket.
“I had always been consistent for England, but I think this is the game people will always think of,” he said. “It was the only time I claimed 10 wickets in a Test and it was just really emotional.
“My dad stayed out of the way because I could see he was starting to fill up with tears.
“It means so much to play for England, and to be one of the very few to have taken a hat-trick is something you can’t take away from me. I have a framed picture and kept the ball.
“It will always be etched in my memory.”