Boring Siddle makes the difference
"We just wanted the extra pace"
"We want the extra pace here"
"We've gone for the extra pace"
"It's the pace drop"
"We need him bowling 140kph"
"At the moment he's averaging 131, 132"
In the space of seven sentences on day one of the 2014 Cape Town Test, Australia's coach Darren Lehmann made no fewer than five references to Peter Siddle's pace. Lehmann was explaining why Siddle had been dropped from the team for the third Test of the series against South Africa, and the decision would be vindicated in the short term by victory.
Eighteen months later, as the team resumed training at home after the loss of the Ashes in England, Lehmann had changed his tune somewhat.
"We certainly had the control at Lord's and The Oval"
"The other three we went around the park"
"That's not been what we've been about over the last 18 months"
"We've kept it under three an over and in control of the game"
"If they are attacking bowlers, they've still got to be able to defend as well"
"We need to get control back and go for less runs"
That's six references to "control" or economy in a similar space of time Lehmann had used at Cape Town. In the interim, Siddle had played only two more Tests, taking his tally to 198 wickets from 57 matches. In a telling indicator of where he sat in Australia's plans, he had also lost his Cricket Australia contract.
So convinced was Siddle that he had run out of opportunities, he confessed to Ricky Ponting on the morning of the Trent Bridge Ashes Test that he thought his time had come and gone. Similar conversations were had with a fellow 30-something in Chris Rogers, who reflected upon Siddle's achievement in becoming only the third Victorian after Merv hughes and Shane Warne to claim 200 Test wickets.
"For him, and I can sympathise a little bit, he probably thought he was gone, he thought this opportunity wasn't going to come and he was going to fall eight wickets short," Rogers said on ABC Grandstand radio. "He got six at The Oval then he needed two today. What a moment, as much as you say you don't look at those sorts of milestones, but I'll give you the heads up, they know exactly what's going on, and it's something you look back at the end of your career and later in life and be so proud of. 'Siddler' can be so proud of what he's achieved in the game so far."
Siddle's performance in Adelaide was redolent of his display at The Oval, the Test match after Trent Bridge. Belatedly given a chance in both contests, he was at least this time playing in a live match, with the series still up for grabs in the inaugural day-night Test. At The Oval, Siddle had brought much-needed balance and control to an Australian attack that had previously leaked runs through the inclusion of too many spearheads and not enough shields. In Adelaide it was much the same.
Nothing summed this up quite like the way Siddle homed in on Kane Williamson, a batsman the Australians had not been able to make head or tail of in the first two matches of this series. Once again, their initial attempts to corral him were unsuccessful, as Williamson cantered to 19 from his first 19 deliveries, 18 of which were bowled by Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.
Sensing the game getting away from him, the captain Steven Smith swung Siddle around to bowl from the River End, and he produced a spell that, in concert with the similarly steady Nathan Lyon, pinned down Williamson for more or less the first time all series. Siddle bowled 16 deliveries to Williamson, off which New Zealand's lynchpin could score only two. Lyon's 10 balls also conceded just one.
Smith then brought Starc back and, aided by Siddle's pressure, he was able to keep Williamson quiet with another maiden. In Starc's following over, Williamson was surprised by a yorker angled in from around the wicket, trapped on the crease, and out lbw. After that sprightly start, he had made just three runs from his final 39 balls. Siddle did not take the wicket, but he had every reason to be satisfied. Wickets 199 (Ross Taylor) and 200 (Doug Bracewell) duly and deservedly followed.
"It wasn't me that got the wicket but as a team that's what we wanted to improve on," he said. "To get that result, especially to him, I think it gave us all a little chuckle that it worked, and for a player that's in good form you can still break them with the basic part of cricket. That was a good thing for us even throughout the whole day.
"At times we were a little bit wayward but all in all it was a pretty good performance with the ball to build pressure. Everyone that came on showed that, and we got the result in the end."
There is nothing fancy about what Siddle does, and it is arguable that in recent times Australia's selectors have at times been blinded by the more coruscating stuff offered by others. But in a post-Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson world, Siddle is the vital glue for a bowling attack that needs experience and consistency to balance the talent of Hazlewood, Starc, James Pattinson and Pat Cummins. Hopefully Lehmann and company will now remember this.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig