Siddle hopes to get through Adelaide grind
If there was one image that signified Australia's disappointment against South Africa last summer, it was the sight of Peter Siddle on his haunches at the end of the Adelaide Test. Depleted, dejected and, he later admitted, "a little bit delirious", Siddle had delivered 63.5 overs in the match, the most by any Australia fast bowler this century. Australia fell two wickets short of a win, Siddle's body couldn't handle another Test four days later, and South Africa took the series with victory in Perth.
Twelve months later, Siddle is preparing to return to the venue of his most exhausting Test experience, but in happier circumstances. Australia are 1-0 up in an Ashes series and Siddle's workload in the first Test - 26.4 overs - is a vast improvement on the 53 he sent down at the Gabba last year. A four-day win in Brisbane also allowed an extra day of rest ahead of Adelaide, and all the Test fast men have sat out of the ongoing round of Sheffield Shield matches.
There is always the chance of a fast bowler breaking down in Adelaide, as James Pattinson did early in last year's match, but Siddle has his fingers crossed for a slightly easier time. Like last year, there is only a three-day break between the Adelaide and Perth Tests, but Siddle is hopeful he will be able to walk out with the team at the WACA this time around.
"Going over to Adelaide you never expect a light workload," Siddle said in Melbourne on Friday. "It's always going to be hard work. Hopefully this year everyone's fit. We've come off a lighter workload as a bowling unit so hopefully everyone gets through and there's no hiccups at the start of the game [which would mean] a couple of us have to have big outings.
"It's about how you're feeling, and I think we're the biggest judge of that ... We judge it in the end, like I did in Perth last year and said I wasn't up to it. That's the same thing that will happen around now no doubt. The selectors will pick the best team that's 100% fit for that Test match ... I couldn't [back up] last time but we'd had a big workload earlier on. This time, it's obviously been a lot lighter. We've just got to play it by ear."
The one unknown this time is the new Adelaide Oval surface: for the first time in the venue's 128-year Test history, a drop-in pitch will be used. Two Sheffield Shield matches have been played on the drop-ins this summer and the initial signs are not encouraging for fast bowlers. Across the two matches, spin bowlers have collectively taken 28 wickets at 41.39, while fast bowlers have tallied only 23 victims at 57.08. No fast bowler has taken more than three in an innings.
Two matches is a small sample size, of course, and the second of those games - both draws - was getting close to a result when time ran out on the fourth afternoon. Johan Botha, the South Australia captain, said the pitch was "getting towards a result wicket, but you would still probably want a little more out of it on day one and two instead of losing only three or four wickets". Siddle and his colleagues can expect plenty of hard work.
"It doesn't matter who you're playing or what game it is over there, whether it's a one-dayer or a Test match, it's always tight," Siddle said. "It is a tough ground to play at; the wicket can get pretty flat to bat on. But sometimes it can get a bit of turn, so the spinner will play a part. We don't know what's going to happen with these drop-ins, but hopefully it's a good cricket wicket all round, the bowlers get a bit out of it and the batters can have a bit of fun out there.
"We all saw Mitch bowl over in India on flatter wickets than we're probably going to get in Adelaide and the pace and bounce he had on those wickets. We don't know what's going to be prepared for us. We'll get over there, we'll assess the wicket and see what plans we'll go with."
Australia are expected to use the same attack in Adelaide as they did at the Gabba, although there is the chance of bringing in the allrounder James Faulkner for George Bailey as an extra bowling option. While Faulkner has a strong chance of playing some part in this Ashes series, Pattinson appears unlikely to take on England, despite the news that he will make his return from injury this weekend in club cricket in Melbourne.
Pattinson is on the comeback trail from a back stress fracture and will turn out for Dandenong this weekend, though it will be as a batsman only. Cricket Australia's general manager of team performance, Pat Howard, said on Friday that Pattinson had a carefully planned programme for the coming month, after which his fitness would be reassessed, and he was not expected to play any Sheffield Shield cricket until the new year.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here