RYAN SIDEBOTTOM has handed Yorkshire a boost by insisting that he has no intention of hanging up his whites as he stands on the brink of a personal milestone.
The 37-year-old pace bowler goes into today’s County Championship match against Middlesex at Lord’s needing just one more wicket to reach 700 in first-class cricket.
It promises to be a week to remember for the popular left-armer, with Yorkshire requiring only a maximum of five points to guarantee back-to-back Championships.
Sidebottom – who is poised to win his fifth title (his third with Yorkshire after two with Notts) –has once again played a key role and stressed that he had no immediate plans to call it a day.
“I’ve got one year left on my contract, but I have no intention of finishing, I really haven’t,” he said. “I know I get called ‘veteran’ and ‘stalwart’ in the press, and so on, but I’m still only 37 and I still feel fit and strong.
“To be honest, over the last five or six years, I’ve probably bowled better and better as I’ve got older.
“I’m loving every minute of it, so why would I retire?”
Now in his 19th season in first-class cricket, Sidebottom remains one of the great wonders of the cricketing world, a man who seems to have been in the twilight of his career for so long that journalists typing that phrase as juniors have now probably retired themselves.
But as Sidebottom himself reflected, he genuinely has improved with age. Indeed, prior to rejoining Yorkshire for the 2011 season, Sidebottom had taken 475 first-class wickets at 25.48, with his record since then standing at 224 wickets at 21.06.
“I think it’s testament to the way Yorkshire have looked after me,” he said.
“All the coaches and support staff have been brilliant, and when you go out there you want to repay that ten-fold.
“The way I get looked after is amazing. I get lots of rest, I get days off, and I feel fresh and great.”
Sidebottom, who has effectively finished playing one-day and T20 cricket, achieved one of his stated personal ambitions on returning to Yorkshire when he went past his father, Arnie’s, total of 596 first-class wickets. It complements another set of targets subsequently given to him by first team coach Jason Gillespie.
“A couple of years ago, Dizzy (Gillespie) gave me a sheet with Mark Ealham’s, Shaun Pollock’s and his own wickets on it as a bit of an incentive to go past,” said Sidebottom.
“I’ve done all three now, which is great. It was brilliant from Dizzy because if you have little things like that to strive towards, it really helps.
“Who knows, perhaps I could get up towards 800 wickets, which my hero growing up, Darren Gough, managed to get to, but just to get to 700, 750 would be brilliant.”
The Yorkshire team is very much “a team”, and the players were acutely aware of Sidebottom’s impending milestone in the club’s last Championship match against Somerset at Headingley.
They tried to work it so that Sidebottom took the last wicket before that accolade ultimately went to Tim Bresnan.
“All the lads were really good,” said Sidebottom.
“Brezzy even bowled a bouncer last ball to let me have an over, but it wasn’t to be.
“But, as I’ve always said, it’s not about me, and although it would be very special to get that 700th wicket, the main thing is that we’ve played some great team cricket this season.
“We’re very close now (to winning the Championship), and we just want to keep getting as many points as we can.”
There cannot be many – if, indeed, any – current players who have won five titles, and Lord’s would be as good a place as any to clinch No 5.
Sidebottom himself sealed the title last summer when he took the final wicket against Notts on his former stomping ground.
“It would be very special to win another Championship,” he said.
“Five would mean a great deal to me. As I always say, the guys keep me young and it’s great to be a part of things.
“My enthusiasm and desire is still there to win and to keep winning trophies.”
Whenever he does eventually call it a day, Sidebottom must go down as one of Yorkshire’s greatest-ever cricketers.
He modestly admits that his success still takes him by surprise.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have achieved a lot in the game and probably surprised myself,” he said.
“To win a T20 World Cup with England, to get a Test match hat-trick and to win the Championship four times, I feel very lucky.
“But you can’t do it without your team-mates, and the Yorkshire lads have been fantastic again this season.
“Everyone has played their part, and hopefully we can now go and finish the job.”