Australia's attack 'best in the world' - McDermott
Craig McDermott reckons Australia's attack is the best in the world and Peter Siddle believes it is the strongest he has played in, but the tour of South Africa in February looms as their ultimate test. Against South Africa, Australia will not only have to bowl to the world's top two Test batsmen on the ICC rankings, AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla, they will also be judged against Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn, the No.1- and No.2-ranked bowlers.
Siddle, Ryan Harris, Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Lyon have delivered the Ashes after being supported by Australia's batsmen, which did not happen in England this year; the addition of Johnson to the side was also a major factor. The success was set up by outstanding bowling in the first three innings in Brisbane and Adelaide, where Australia prevented England reaching 200, and they have not conceded 400 in any of England's 16 Ashes innings this year.
Tackling the No.1 Test team in the world at home will be a wholly different challenge and, while nobody questions the dangers posed by Steyn and Philander, it is Australia's depth that McDermott believes gives his attack the edge. Morne Morkel is ranked No.11 in the world and Jacques Kallis comes in at No.29, but South Africa's spinner Imran Tahir does not offer the kind of control that Lyon does, and is ranked No.55.
Harris and Siddle are currently Nos. 5 and 6, Johnson No.15, Lyon No. 21 and Shane Watson No.38, but the Australians also have James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Jackson Bird, Pat Cummins and Ben Hilfenhaus all returning from injuries. South Africa's depth has hardly needed testing in the past few years, so fit and consistent have been Philander, Steyn and Morkel, but Kyle Abbott and Marchant de Lange are particularly promising backups.
"It's not just the bowling attack that's on the field, I think it's the backup we've got as well," McDermott, Australia's bowling coach, said in Melbourne on Monday. "That'll maybe be put to the test over the next couple of weeks. We'll see.
"I think we've got the best attack in the world. It's very well balanced, particularly with Nathan as our spinner - he's bowled well - and you've got Watto there as your fifth bowler. He's pretty handy as a fifth bowler. Nathan's done an unbelievable job for us this year. He's taken some very crucial wickets and very crucial times, particularly Alastair Cook twice with those cut shots where he's got a little bit of extra bounce."
Should any of Australia's fast bowlers struggle for fitness ahead of the Boxing Day Test, the selectors would look to Doug Bollinger and Nathan Coulter-Nile as the two standby fast men in the squad. Bird has made his return through the BBL, Pattinson and Hilfenhaus are expected to do the same, while Starc and Cummins have longer to wait until they regain full fitness.
One of the most pleasing aspects of Australia's attack this summer has been the ability of Harris, Siddle and Johnson to remain fit and in form for three consecutive Tests, with the strong possibility of a fourth being added to the list. Siddle, who will reach the milestone of 50 Test appearances on Boxing Day, said it was the strongest Test bowling attack during his time in the baggy green.
"We're in a good place at the moment," Siddle said. "We've been striving as a bowling unit for a long time to get that consistency right and to be able to complete innings together. That's what we've worked towards and this series has shown that. We've been able to bowl teams out quite quickly, give our batters a big chance and be able to put a lot of pressure on the opposition.
"Everyone from Mitchell to myself and Rhino and Lyno, we're all performing well and playing our role. We've always been about partnerships with bat or ball and I think with the ball at the moment this is probably the best line-up I've played in, where we've been able to stick it together and get everything right and win Test matches. At the moment this is definitely the best line-up that I've ever played in."
Asked if the Australians could lay claim to being the best attack in world cricket at the moment, Siddle stopped short of echoing McDermott's words.
"We're up there, aren't we?" he said. "We're winning Test matches, we're bowling teams out, but it's on the back of the batters. The batters have set a record of 500 for three consecutive Tests in a row for the opposition to chase. It does make it a lot easier for the bowling unit. The combination at the moment with batters and bowlers, we're just playing good positive cricket and being consistent at it."
That consistency in the field has helped restrict England's run-scoring opportunities, which in turn has frustrated their batsmen and contributed to wickets falling. At this stage, the collective economy rate of Australia's bowlers in this series is 2.83, their lowest in any Ashes series since 1994-95. Notably, that was McDermott's last Ashes series as a player.
"It's a known fact that you build enough maidens on an opposition, especially back to back to back, and you generate wickets," Siddle said.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here