Australia's bowlers show batsmen how to step up
Should Australia's batsmen require some advice about stepping into the shoes of Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting, they could do far worse than look across to the other side of the dressing room.
While Phillip Hughes has been up at night thinking about the idea of replacing the seemingly irreplaceable, the Test team's fast bowlers have learned how to step up when asked. If the rotation or management of fast bowlers has been the source of some consternation among some former players, portions of the public and shriller segments of the media, it has also added to the collective poise of the battery at Australia's disposal.
Instead of wondering aloud how they could possibly improve on the sort of high-quality bowling produced by the likes of James Pattinson, Ryan Harris, Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle at times over the past 18 months, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, and most recently Jackson Bird have stepped up to their tasks with increasing confidence. All the time they have been reassured to keep doing what put them in the team in the first place - the sort of simple advice the batsmen will need to hold close as they set about the task of covering for Hussey's loss after the SCG Test.
"We've gone through a lot of players and had a lot of success with it," Siddle said on New Year's Day. "I think we've shown in the past 18 months that when blokes go out whether it's injury or resting, the blokes that come in can perform and do well whether it's their first Test or 49th. Like Mitch [Johnson] last week, it doesn't matter if they come in, they're ready to go. And it's a strength.
"There are a lot of games of cricket and we've got a busy Test match period coming up, which is going to put a lot of pressure on all the bowlers. But I think by having that backing by the blokes on the side, the reserves, we can keep being competitive and very competitive, as we've shown."
At 24, Hughes has the experience of 19 Tests to call on, but remains an aspirant to the level of consistency shown by Hussey and captain Michael Clarke this summer. He admitted to thinking of how often the aforementioned duo had saved the blushes of other members of the top six across the Tests against South Africa and Sri Lanka, and has resolved to build his mastery of No. 3.
"I was actually thinking the other night the partnerships they've been getting through the summer, they've been unbelievable," Hughes said. "But in saying that, it's now all about us stepping up just a little bit more. I've been in and out of the team for a few years now and I suppose I've got a few caps behind me now so I'm a little bit experienced.
"I really want to make this three position my own. As I came in the team and got selected I really want to stamp my authority and I suppose be consistent over a number of years. I'd really love to hold that spot going forward and I suppose everyone has to step up now. [Ponting's] been unbelievably consistent now for years, so it's about us all being really consistent and going to the next level."
Next to Clarke and the seasoned reservist Johnson, Siddle's 36 Tests will make him Australia's third-most experienced Test player when Hussey's career concludes. While Siddle admitted to feeling a little "weird" about his advance in seniority, he also reasoned that he had spent enough time in and out of the team to learn what worked for him, allowing him to impart knowledge and advice to others.
"Looking back now, when I came in at 23, you do go about things differently," Siddle said. "You think it's pretty cruisey and you're happy with we're you're at, but it does hit you a few times when you get dropped or you're told some home truths about how you're really going or really looking. It has only been the last few years I've started to concentrate a lot more and work a lot harder.
"Last year I benefited from all that work I put in and actually concentrating a bit harder on what I had to do to be a professional cricketer and play at the highest level. Sometimes those little hiccups along the way sometimes do help if you take it the right way and go about changing those things.
"I just want to see the young boys do as well as they can when they first come in and keep doing as well as they can. I want them to learn from my mistakes of being a bit lazy when I first came in and taking it easy. You want them to go as hard as they can and keep doing that - if I can keep doing that, whether that's at training or out on the field, hopefully they can follow."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here