Slim Siddle set to shoulder burden
Ten days from the first Test against South Africa, Australia's attack is the subject of so many known unknowns and unknown unknowns that it would leave Donald Rumsfeld's head spinning. Will the selectors choose four fast men or three and a spinner? Do they want the left-arm variety that Mitchell Starc provides? Is Starc fit enough after playing so much Twenty20? Has Ben Hilfenhaus had enough cricket lately? It seems like the only known known is that Peter Siddle will be there, ready to bowl himself into the ground.
It's a job that he's hoping is his all summer long. While the selectors are keen for the younger fast men - Starc, Pat Cummins and James Pattinson - to rotate through the side to avoid burnout, there will be plenty of burden on Siddle. Six Tests - three against South Africa and three against Sri Lanka - are on the agenda over the next two months and Siddle, 27, wants to be part of all of them.
"That's the plan. You always want to play as many as you can," Siddle said. "I've been lucky enough that the last two summers I've played every Test match. I'm the only one [of the bowlers] who has done that and it's something I'll be trying to do again. The preparation that I've had here, and leading into this series, is the same as what I've done in those years. I think it will leave me in pretty good stead to be fit and strong. As long as the form is still there."
And it will be a slimmed-down Siddle who will take on the South Africans at the Gabba, starting next Friday. When Siddle visited South Africa for a three-Test series in early 2009, one of the local papers kept referring to his "man boobs", but they won't have any such ammunition this time. The switch to a vegetarian diet has helped him lose five kilograms since the tour of the West Indies in April, and he looks fitter than he ever has before.
He'll need to be. The ability to bowl long spells, day in day out, has always been an attractive part of Siddle's package. That will be even more important given the reluctance of the team management to ask too much of the younger men. Siddle might have Hilfenhaus to help him carry the workload at the Gabba, but there is also a chance he will be the sole mature body alongside Pattinson and Starc.
"I've always been like that," Siddle said. "That's just me in general. I like to have the ball in my hand, I like to do anything I can for the captain and for the team. If that situation comes up and I have to bowl those long spells, I do.
"There's a lot of young blokes around the squad, some haven't played a lot of cricket. They're developing as well and you can tell the improvements from last summer to now, Starc, Pattinson and Cummins, just the way that they're getting through games and pulling up, they're improving. If I have to bowl long overs then I will."
At this stage, Siddle's Victorian team-mate Pattinson appears the next most likely fast man to win a place in the Gabba line-up, given that he is on top of the Sheffield Shield wicket tally this summer and was Man of the Match on Test debut at the Gabba last season. Pattinson said there would be fierce competition in the nets next week among the fast bowlers, and while he would love to play all six Tests this summer he was realistic about the role workload would play in the selectors' decisions.
"It's hard to put a cap on how many Tests I'll be available for. Six would be really nice," Pattinson said. "But I'm not sure which way they're going to go. It's going to be determined on workloads and how much we bowl in the first couple of Tests, who's up and firing.
"It's just part of sport. The competition in the nets is extremely high. I can't wait to get up there on Tuesday and bowl against everyone in the nets. It's almost competition within your own team. That's what brings out the best in your team as well, having that competition vying for spots."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here