SUMMER just will not be the same without Ryan Sidebottom.
For the past 20 years, the Yorkshire pace bowler has been one of the most instantly recognisable figures on the cricketing circuit.
But, in September, he will bring down the final curtain on his distinguished career.
Sidebottom will be just four months short of his 40th birthday when that happens – an age when most batsmen have long since retired, let alone most pace bowlers.
“It feels like the right time to call it a day,” he says.
“I was absolutely shattered after the final match of last season (against Middlesex at Lord’s); there was so much emotion around that game.
I’ve always been someone who wears my heart on my sleeve, I suppose, and who tries to give everything for the team. I think it’s something that the Yorkshire fans appreciate. I’ve always tried to be respectful and to play hard but fair.Ryan Sidebottom
“After I’d had a break, I sat down and discussed it with my dad (Arnie Sidebottom, the former Yorkshire and England cricketer), and decided that it was the right time to finish.
“Hopefully, by announcing my retirement when I have, it will give an extra 10 per cent to the boys.
“Maybe we can have a good season and I can end my career on a high.
“The First Division (of the County Championship) is going to be even tougher this year, though, especially with 14 matches per county instead of 16.
“If you get off to a bad start, you could be really battling.
“But I’m very confident, the boys are very confident, and we’re in a pretty decent place as a squad.”
Sidebottom is not playing in the ongoing Championship opener against Hampshire at Headingley due to a hamstring niggle, but he is expected to return to action shortly.
He is also determined that his final season in first-class cricket will not be a glorified farewell tour.
“It won’t be like: ‘Oh, I’m hanging my boots up, so I’ll just turn up and have a jolly’,” he says.
“I always want to win every game, and this year is no different.
“I’m really excited and determined to do well for everyone concerned.
“I’ll be giving it my very best.”
It was ever thus...
Throughout his two decades in the game, Sidebottom has come not only with the rubber-stamp of quality, but also with the guarantee of unstinting dedication and commitment.
Passion exudes from his every pore.
He is the very definition of the term “a competitor”.
“I’ve always been someone who wears my heart on my sleeve, I suppose, and who tries to give everything for the team,” he says.
“I think it’s something that the Yorkshire fans appreciate.
“I’ve always tried to be respectful and to play hard but fair.
“I’d like to think that people respect me as a bowler and also as a decent bloke away from the game.”
A popular character off the field, and someone who always has time for his many supporters, Sidebottom is hugely respected as a bowler.
He has won five Championship titles (three with Yorkshire, two with Notts), a one-day trophy with Yorkshire, and a World T20 title with England.
He represented his country 65 times in all formats and captured 131 wickets.
He has 737 first-class wickets to his name and more than 1,000 wickets in all forms of cricket.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Sidebottom’s career is that he has statistically got better with age.
When he returned for his second spell with Yorkshire ahead of the 2011 season, after seven seasons with Notts, he had taken 475 first-class wickets at an average of 25.48.
Since then, despite his advancing years, he has captured 262 first-class wickets at the even more impressive average of 21.04.
As such, he has been a vital figure in one of the most successful eras in Yorkshire’s history.
Indeed, Sidebottom deserves to be ranked among the very best bowlers that the club have possessed; he should rightly be remembered as a true Yorkshire great.
Asked why he seems to have improved like a fine wine, Sidebottom says: “I can’t really put my finger on it.
“I think it’s just the experience and maybe a bit more nous.
“But a huge amount of credit has to go to everyone on the fitness side at the club and the strength and conditioning coaches.
“I get looked after incredibly well at Yorkshire and I owe a lot to all of the staff.
“As I’ve got older, I’ve also probably got more passionate.
“You know that your career doesn’t last forever, so, the older you get, you just try to cherish every moment.
“When I’m out there bowling, it just gives me so much pleasure.
“Being out there, being in the heat of the battle, is something that I still relish.”
Sidebottom has seen some sweeping changes during his time in the game, far too many to mention here.
If he was starting out today, he would probably earn much more money with T20 ruling the roost, but he insists that he would not change a thing.
“The game’s a lot faster than it was when I first started playing,” he reflects.
“The guys are bigger and stronger, the technology has got better, the fielding is amazing, the athleticism, and so on.
“In a way, I’m still quite old-fashioned in that if you put the ball in the right area, you’ve always got a chance.
“There’s still that art, and maybe that’s one worry I have is that too many kids now just solely want to play T20 cricket.
“Yes, T20 cricket has changed the game for the better, with the entertainment and the crowds, but I worry that players just want to play T20 because it’s easier as you’re only bowling four overs.
“For me, the people like Jonny Bairstow and the Joe Root, who are consistent in all formats, are the guys I really admire, the guys who show all aspects of skill, technique and the mental side of things.
“If I was starting out now, I probably would go on to earn a bit more money, but I honestly wouldn’t change anything for the world.
“I’ve been very lucky: I’ve represented my country, I’ve earned decent money, and to play for 20 years is something incredibly special.”
Sidebottom is grateful to Yorkshire for granting him a testimonial in August and September, when he is sure to receive a rousing send-off from the club’s supporters.
Thoughts will then turn to a life after playing.
“I’ve had a property business with my wife for the last 15 years, which I really enjoy doing,” he says.
“I’d also like to stay in the game and, as I’ve said before, I wouldn’t mind being a bowling coach.
“If I could pass on my knowledge to youngsters, that would be great, and I’ve also got a foundation that has been going for four years now for under-privileged children, which means a lot to me.
“But, in the short-term, I wouldn’t mind just taking a few months out to relax and actually go on a summer holiday – something that I’ve never had.”
Whatever life holds in store, cricket owes Sidebottom a big debt of gratitude.
He has been a wonderful servant to the game and to Yorkshire.