Surplus Siddle now sorely needed
Having considered Peter Siddle surplus to requirements until the moment of last resort during the Ashes, Australia's selectors have once again declined to pick him until the final Test against New Zealand.
For a time, Siddle was not considered fast enough, explosive enough or good enough next to others. But Siddle is now needed more than ever because of two other things he does not do: retiring, and conceding too many runs.
The way Siddle's fortunes have turned is pronounced. Before the dual tours of the West Indies and England, he was more or less the last man picked, and did not even enjoy the security of a Cricket Australia contract - the first time he had missed out since 2008. Now, however, he has been termed one of four "prime bowlers" - alongside Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson - by the coach Darren Lehmann, who has reservations about the pace stocks beneath.
"It's always been about not worrying about what I can't control," Siddle said of his time on the outer. "That opportunity in England gave me that little bit of confidence that I can come in and perform. I think that is the added bonus. I obviously missed out on the first two here but know it isn't that long since I came out and performed. It gives myself a boost but the powers that be above know that I can perform when called upon.
"[Losing my contract] didn't worry me at all, like the selections. I knew last year that I went back to state cricket and performed well and took the most wickets after Christmas of the fast bowlers in state cricket. I did the same when I went to England, took wickets again. I have confidence in my own ability, what I can do and that's all I worry about, preparing well and looking for my opportunity.
"You can't worry about the other things, it gives you too much stress. If you worry about little things like that you can't prepare as well as you want to. That's the thing with me I am always positive, and laid back."
Though he has in recent times been a fringe member of the squad, Siddle's record as a bowler would suggest he is at his best when confronting players of the highest class. His first Test wicket was one Sachin Tendulkar, and he enjoys enviable records against the likes of Kevin Pietersen, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. No matter the player, it seems, Siddle's minimalist methods have as strong a chance of success as anything more spectacular from others.
In the first two Tests of this series, Australia's pace attack did not perform in quite the same balanced manner. Starc, Hazlewood and Johnson all offered outstanding spells at various points, but none were consistent enough to create the suffocating pressure so loathed by batsmen. Siddle pointed to this as a key reason why Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor have been able to flourish.
"I don't think he has changed a hell of a lot, he has got a lot smarter with how he plays," Siddle said of Williamson. "He still plays the same game but he's probably just a bit tighter than the past and it's working for him. I think it's just about being patient; that's one thing he's very good at, and that's one thing we can be slightly better at in our bowling, building a bit more pressure, having a bit more patience and working players like that over.
"The good players are happy to spend a lot of time out there and make you bowl a lot. So the more pressure you can put on them early on is going to work in our favour. You look at all the class players in world cricket, it's worked hasn't it? It worked against Sachin, it worked against KP, it works against Kohli, that's the thing, it works. It's pretty basic but it happens against all the best teams.
"Going back to the big success we had during the Ashes here in Australia, that was the big key thing for us, building pressure and getting them out that way. Smudger's [Steven Smith] a good captain to work with in that he's willing to put players in the positions you want, and works well with the bowlers. I think it'll be no different coming into this match, which might need a few little tactical manoeuvres to get some of these guys out."
These words come with plenty of experience behind them, and also a close relationship with the assistant coach Craig McDermott that helped Siddle to understand his own game better. Starting in Adelaide, Siddle is hopeful of acting as a "bowling captain" to the pace battery, counselling them on the field while also leading with his own parsimonious example of how to bowl relentlessly and well. The exit of Johnson has afforded him that chance.
"I've been around for just a little bit shorter time than Mitch but I've been around and played enough Test cricket, played enough around the world, to be able to give enough knowledge and experience to these guys," he said. "All these guys debuted with me alongside them, especially Starcy and Patto a few years ago. Having that relationship with those guys - I grew up with a lot of them - I think I'll be able to pass on enough to them and work alongside them. Obviously my skill set works well with the way their play their games.
"All in all we're still in a good place. Starcy has shown over the past especially 12 months, the way he can perform, that he can take over that mantle as the type of player Mitch Johnson was in the [2013-14] Ashes: the fast, aggressive wicket-taker. 'Starcy' has definitely shown in the past 12 months that he can fill that role - and fill it well. Cricket-wise we don't lose too much, but as a mate and a class player we definitely lose out. But I think there's enough players around to cover the role from now on."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig