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July 8, 2013
Question: who is the ICC's top-ranked bowler among those about to contest this Investec Ashes series? Answer: Peter Siddle.
A lofty perch of fifth in the world, above even Graeme Swann and Jimmy Anderson, quantifies exactly how well Siddle has sustained his quality over the past 18 months, and why much of the speculation about his place in the Australian Test side has been just that. Some quiet displays for Australia A and the touring party before the team bus reached Nottingham were a source of mild concern, but there was a distinct sense of moving through the gears about how Siddle drove through the crease on the tourists' first training day at Trent Bridge.
Australia's vice-captain Brad Haddin faced Siddle, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc as the selectors' apparent preferred attack built up considerable pace and notable swing. Having watched Siddle throughout the trip - he was also captain of Australia A - Haddin spoke unstintingly of the Victorian as not only a guaranteed starter but the most pivotal member of the Australian pace battery.
"He's a pretty seasoned campaigner so he cranked it up a bit leading into the Test match. He'll be ready to go," Haddin said. "He knows exactly how to get up for a Test match and his preparation has been spot on since we got here with the A tour. His experience and his ranking in the world shows he is a very consistent performer at this level.
"I think you can judge different players by where they're at in their careers. Sometimes guys need to get some wickets and feel confident going into big games but Siddle, he's proved himself over a long time now. He knows exactly where he's at. I wouldn't read too much into the actual stats of the A tour and the two tour games here.
"He knows what to do to get right for a Test. He knows what to do to get through and win Tests. He's a class act and has been for a long time. We can dance around the issue but he's our most experienced bowler and he's proven at this level."
For his part, Siddle has acknowledged he did not bowl well against Somerset, but he is far from the first senior pace bowler to deliver an indifferent display in a tour match. The question now is whether Siddle can ramp up his speed, rhythm and swing on cue at Trent Bridge, where his durability will be a vital counterpoint to the youthful fury of Pattinson and Starc.
Craig McDermott, who was instrumental in Siddle's evolution from wrecking ball to something more accomplished during his stint as Australia's bowling coach from 2011-12, expected his pupil would be capable of lifting himself at precisely the right moment.
"Sids has been our best and most consistent bowler for the last two years and is a big game player," McDermott told ESPNcricinfo. "He knows his game very well but like most people needs to be reassured on occasions. He needs to bowl fourth and fifth stump and full, finish off his action properly - pace will follow from there - and he will be fine. I'm backing him to do well."
Australia will hope Siddle goes the way of McDermott's old pace partner Merv Hughes, who shrugged off an indifferent start to the 1993 tour to deliver a lionhearted series for Allan Border, rather than that of Jason Gillespie, never a factor in 2005 after his form and confidence ebbed away early.
"I know I was off my game," Siddle told the Age last week of his Taunton display. "In a way, they do know what I can do, but I still have to show in these next few training sessions that I'm up and about, that it's coming out well and I'm ready to go for that first Test. I think no matter who plays the first one, it's not going to be the line-up that finishes it off at the end. All five of us, even six with Jimmy Faulkner in there, are a massive chance of playing throughout this series."
Of those six, only Siddle knows what it means to be on the losing end of an England tour. It is worth noting that in 2009, as a much less precise operator than he is today, Siddle still managed to scoop 20 wickets, striking every 48.5 deliveries. The painful memories of that defeat, arriving in the final Test of a series punctuated by missed Australian opportunities, have stayed with Siddle, just as they have with Haddin.
"You can't get rid of them, no matter what you try to do," Haddin said. "Sitting in The Oval losing the Ashes, it hurts. And there's only one way you can get that back, and that's by getting that urn back. I don't use that hurt or anything as motivation, you don't need much more motivation than coming over on this campaign, but it does hurt and it will hurt forever I think. So I'd love to win this one to take a little bit of that hurt away."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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