THE trees are barely in leaf and already England are all geared up for a new Test series which begins at Lord’s next Thursday with the best-of-three rubber against New Zealand.
One of Yorkshire’s most famous adopted sons will go into the match with some concerns about his form weighing on his shoulders while one of the county’s exiles will step on to the hallowed turf modestly aware he is a current England hero.
England captain and Sheffield reared Michael Vaughan has not made anywhere near the volume of runs he would have liked in his early-season matches with Yorkshire.
But Huddersfield-born Ryan Sidebottom, formerly with Yorkshire and now, regrettably, a lynchpin with Nottinghamshire, has had such an astonishing rise in fortunes over the past year that he is now England’s king of swing and the biggest single reason why his country so dramatically turned the tables on the Kiwis in New Zealand last March.
Vaughan, of course, can take every credit for astutely leading England to that 2-1 series triumph but he must be aware that he quickly needs to get over his winter runs famine in order to safeguard his long term future as Test captain.
Had England not come back from one down against New Zealand the winter would have looked pretty bleak for Vaughan because it should not be forgotten that England lost the three-match Test series 1-0 in Sri Lanka in December.
Vaughan’s own form in Sri Lanka was only fair – he hit 87 and 61 in the second Test at Colombo in between scores of 37 and five at Kandy and one and 25 at Galle.
And in New Zealand he was even more modest – 63 and nine at Hamilton, 32 and 13 at Wellington and two and four at Napier.
Any other front-line England batsman posting such scores would probably have been axed and Vaughan needed to rack up the runs with Yorkshire in order to re-assert himself.
It was not to be, however, and although he improved slightly on a miserable start he was never able to assume command.
In the curtain-raiser against Leeds-Bradford Universities he departed for nought and two while those around him blazed the trail, and in the Championship he managed 19 against Hampshire and 42 and 34 off the strong Nottinghamshire attack.
Remarkably, for a man so out of form, England forbid him from playing in the Friends Provident opener against Durham Dynamos at Riverside but in the following two fixtures he could muster only 16 against Derbyshire Phantoms and 22 in the return clash with Durham on Monday in his last Yorkshire outing before the first Test.
The one comfort for Vaughan is that he played some class shots against Nottinghamshire without being able to capitalise on his starts and Yorkshire’s director of cricket, Martyn Moxon, had no doubt that his former opening partner would make someone pay the price for his lean times.
“I thought Michael played very well in both innings and particularly during the 30 overs that were possible on the first day,” said Moxon.
“His technique was absolutely spot on and if he goes on playing like this then expect a big hundred very soon.”
Vaughan remains a great player with a great record and is England’s most successful captain, but having failed to shine with Yorkshire he must now show that he can still do so on the big occasion.
It is the big occasion which Sidebottom has proved he so relishes after lurking in the shadows for so long following his England debut in 2001.
He showed guts in the searing heat of Sri Lanka by bowling far move overs than any of his pace colleagues and then in New Zealand he was truly magnificent, his 24 wickets – including a hat trick and a career-best seven for 47 – being the most by an England bowler in a Test series in that country and the eighth most by an England bowler in any three-Test series. Talk that Sidebottom has just learned how to be a top bowler over the past year or two is utter rubbish.
The fact is that he was ignored by England, despite continuing to perform on the county circuit, and only brought back as an emergency measure.
Sidebottom’s dad, Arnie, who managed only one Test match but bowled so splendidly for Yorkshire while picking up 558 first class wickets, must be immensely proud of his son and he has every right to be.
The sad thing is that for various reasons neither Arnie nor Ryan are seen around Headingley these days, apart from when Ryan is steaming in for Notts or England.