Ambition drives Firebirds coach Jamie Siddons
You would hazard a guess that not many foreigners would emerge from three years in Bangladesh saying they had the time of their lives. And moulded the national team of the national sport from a laughing stock into a competitive unit, boasting the world's best allrounder.
But, hand on heart, Jamie Siddons swears it's true. "It was fantastic. As a life experience for me and the family, it was amazing."
An experience that Siddons reckons made him as a coach, and left the prolific Sheffield Shield runscorer and former Sydney Swans AFL player supremely confident he can turn around some other serial underperformers, Wellington, over the next three seasons.
Siddons arrived in Dhaka in late 2007 with a solid CV. Over 11,000 first-class runs in a 16-year career, captain and coach of South Australia, and assistant to John Buchanan with skipper Ricky Ponting's Australians between 2005 and 2007.
Life was comfortable in Bangladesh for Siddons and wife Kym – off the field at least.
"For an expat, and someone who's paid pretty well over there, it's pretty easy. You get very nice accommodation, you get a driver, you get a maid to do your cooking and cleaning," he said.
Siddons always felt safe in the cricket-mad nation, even if the post of Bangladesh coach ranks somewhere just below prime minister. He was feted often, abused little. There was plenty of advice from the punters, but it was generally good natured.
His main annoyance was the sport's politics, where some in high places boasted zero cricketing knowledge.
"Some of the decisions that get made aren't quite from a cricket viewpoint." On the field, losing was a habit, so Siddons was starting low.
"I was with the team two weeks before we went to New Zealand and we got smashed in most games and embarrassed in a couple as well. Their skill level was nowhere near international standard," he said.
"I had just come from the Australian team and I knew exactly the difference, which was huge. I just worked day by day trying to get each player to make little steps to get better. In three years' time we were a lot better: some of the players had become world class."
In a nutshell, that's Siddons' coaching philosophy. The coach isn't just a vehicle to ferry the players to the ground, or a cardboard cutout with a clipboard. He's quickly identified Wellington's batting averages as below par.
"I definitely back myself to know what's missing and what the individuals need to do to get better. To make that step from first class to test level, or a person first coming into the first class scene: what they need to be an international cricketer."
TWO of his success stories were captain and all-rounder Shakib-al-Hasan and hard-hitting batsman Tamim Iqbal. Shakib hardly bowled at all when Siddons began; soon he was ranked ahead of Daniel Vettori in the ICC's all-rounder category and led Bangladesh to a 4-0 one-day international whitewash over New Zealand last year.
Veteran Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan has already signed for Wellington's Twenty20 side, and Siddons would gladly recruit one of his former charges as the other import. "But they might be in the middle of their one-day and T20 tournaments and not be available."
Siddons guided Bangladesh to 31 wins from 81 ODIs before they parted ways after the World Cup. Suddenly he was unemployed for the first time in 20 years.
There were few jobs around in Australia or England, and next year's IPL was too far away. Wellington was the only job he applied for, with a long-term carrot of the New Zealand coaching role in future years.
The ship carrying the Siddons family belongings from the subcontinent will now continue from Melbourne to Wellington. Siddons, his wife and their children, Stella and Toby, both under two, arrive early next month to start house hunting.
From the steamy heat of Dhaka, the Wellington winters will be bracing, but only marginally colder than Adelaide's. They're outdoor types – Siddons loves golf and waterskiing – and Kym is a snowboarding fan ready to hit the New Zealand slopes.
Siddons' other love is AFL. He supports Hawthorn and was a solid country footballer, playing one season in the big time for the Swans in 1983, a year before his first class cricket career began.
His life doesn't have many "what-ifs", but it appears his short footy career is one. That's tied in with the fact he was considered one of the best batsmen never to play a test for Australia [just a solitary ODI against Pakistan in 1988].
"I love football and in the end I probably regret it because I didn't play [cricket] for Australia. But I look back and I was probably too short and too slow to continue on very much."
He laughs, and the conversation switches to the future. Siddons appeals as a straight shooter and a good bloke who's on a mission in the capital. Cricket Wellington may have hit the jackpot, but, as in Bangladesh, the proof will be on the pitch, in the scorebook – and eventually the trophy cabinet.
The Dominion Post