Siddle's future uncertain after stress fractures
Fast bowler Peter Siddle faces an uncertain future after being diagnosed with stress fractures in his back that will require "a significant amount of time away from the game". Siddle played the first Test against New Zealand in Wellington and was an important figure in the first innings, collecting 3 for 37, but he suffered back spasms in the second innings and was ruled out of the second Test in Christchurch.
At the Basin Reserve, Siddle became the eighth man in Australia's Test history to reach the double of 1000 runs and 200 wickets, testament to his consistency over his 61-Test career. However, at the age of 31 and with no shortage of fast-bowling depth in Australian cricket, regaining the fitness and form required to press for further international selection will be an enormous challenge for Siddle.
"Peter returned to Melbourne on Monday and had scans following the bout of back pain he suffered during the first Test in Wellington," David Beakley, the Cricket Australia physio, said. "Unfortunately those scans have indicated a stress fracture in his lower back. He will now require a significant amount of time away from the game with a lengthy rehabilitation process.
"Whilst he is laid off with his current back injury, we will take the opportunity for Peter to have exploratory surgery on his left ankle to investigate and treat the cause of his ongoing ankle pain. Once that surgery is complete we will have a better idea of his prognosis and likely rehabilitation time frame."
In Siddle's absence, James Pattinson returned to the Test team in Christchurch and collected six wickets in Australia's victory, while Jackson Bird finished with seven victims for the match. Josh Hazlewood was the leading wicket taker among Australia's fast bowlers this summer with 33 at 31.13, and when Mitchell Starc returns from injury, Australia will have plenty of options.
Starc began the Test summer in fine form, with 13 wickets at 23.23 in what was effectively two and a half Tests against New Zealand, before suffering an ankle injury that required surgery and ruled him out of the rest of the season. Starc will miss Australia's World Twenty20 campaign in India next month but Australia's coach Darren Lehmann is hopeful of having him available for June's one-day tri-series in the Caribbean.
"We're hoping he'll be available in the West Indies, part of the one-day tour there, and then full tilt at Sri Lanka [in July-August]. That would be the goal for us and the medical team. He's going pretty well at the moment."
The absence of Starc for more than half the summer, as well as the retirement of Mitchell Johnson during the home series against New Zealand, tested Australia's bowling depth and Lehmann was especially pleased that others were able to stand up well enough to help the team regain the No.1 Test ranking. Allrounder Mitchell Marsh's bowling developed strongly over the summer, and Nathan Lyon was the leading wicket taker with 33 victims at 26.84 in the eight Tests.
"It's certainly a reflection on the depth of bowling," Lehmann said of the No.1 ranking, regained after the win over New Zealand at Hagley Oval. "We've picked a side with the conditions in mind here, and we've got a fair few guys injured at the moment. That's a good sign for us going forward, when we start to get our full quality quicks to pick from. That will put pressure on them as well, coming back. They've got to perform to play. That's a good thing for us going forward.
"I think just the consistency from 1 to 11 has been really good for us. Lyon has been exceptional again throughout the tour. His Test match bowling is second to none. Really pleased for all the blokes who have worked hard. We've lost a big chunk of our side in one hit. But they changed around pretty quickly, we took a punt on a couple of players and they did well."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale