England v Australia, 5th Investec Test, The Oval, 2nd day August 21, 2015

Siddle riddle key to the Ashes

How Peter Siddle did not play until the Ashes were decided will remain one of the enduring mysteries of this series. Only Rod Marsh knows the answer

Peter Siddle struck with his second delivery of the series after a long and seemingly futile wait © AFP

In November 2012, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus were ruled out of the Perth Test against South Africa after both were worn down by Faf du Plessis in Adelaide. In their places the selectors called up Mitchell Johnson, Josh Hazlewood and John Hastings. On match morning in the middle of the WACA Ground, the selectors John Inverarity and Rod Marsh openly debated with the captain Michael Clarke and the coach Mickey Arthur over who should play.

The West Australian natives Marsh and Inverarity were convinced that in Perth conditions, an into-the-wind seamer had to be chosen come hell or high water. Thanks to Inverarity's casting vote as chairman, they won the debate with Clarke and Arthur, leaving Hastings to play alongside Johnson and Mitchell Starc - Hazlewood had arrived at the ground thinking he would play. As it was, Hastings struggled and South Africa won, but Marsh's belief in playing bowlers relevant to the conditions appeared ironclad.

Fast forward to June this year, and Ryan Harris was unable to play in Australia's final Ashes warm-up match at Chelmsford. His place was taken by Peter Siddle, who spoke after day one of the match about the best way to bowl in England. "You've got to be patient over here, but if you bowl the right areas in a good spell you can really get the rewards," he said. "That's shown in a lot of Tests here - guys have got four or five in a good spell."

Ahead of the first Test in Cardiff, Siddle was comfortably the most impressive Australian paceman in the nets, repeatedly beating the bat and using the crease expertly. The assistant coach Craig McDermott was eager to see Siddle play. "The boys this morning were swinging the ball a lot," McDermott said after training two days before the series began. "If we do get a lot of swing we can use the crease to maximise that, and that's pretty important for our attack and certainly Sidds is one who uses the crease well.

"So it's making sure you don't get too greedy, and using the crease to get your lines correct and make the batsmen play. The other guys do as well, but he uses it as good as anyone. We've got to bowl our good lines and lengths which we did in Australia in the last series, and we stuck to our game plan. You don't want to attack too much, but you need still to attack."

But somewhere, somehow, Australia's selectors Marsh and Darren Lehmann were left with the impression that Siddle was surplus to requirements. The younger Josh Hazlewood and the allrounder Shane Watson were deemed sufficient as holding bowlers, leaving Johnson and Starc to attack. After a heavy defeat in Cardiff, their conviction about this was unchanged, and a doubly convincing victory at Lord's reinforced the view. Australia would beat England in the old style; the best four bowlers were the best four bowlers.

Siddle duly slogged through England as an auxiliary, a reservist. He bowled an awful lot in the nets, ran plenty of drinks and turned out in the tour matches at Derby and Northampton. He was miffed to be ignored for Edgbaston when the ground staff unveiled a "classic English pitch", though the strong display at Lord's offered some kind of explanation. When Australia's bowlers failed to make use of these conditions when following up the team's first-innings dismissal for a meagre 136, the circumstances appeared to have changed.

Arriving at Trent Bridge, Siddle could have been forgiven for having a spring in his step. He knew the ground well, had taken a five-wicket haul there in the first match of the 2013 series, and had also performed creditably for Nottinghamshire last year. Speculation over the composition of the Australian side mounted as Marsh and Lehmann delayed the decision until match morning. Another green pitch and heavy skies left most to conclude Siddle was to play. His partner Anna had arrived for the match, too.

Yet when the players, support staff and various other types mingled on the outfield in the morning, it became clear that other plans were afoot. The simple line "Marsh in, Marsh out" echoed across the ground, as the reality set in that Australia were dropping an allrounder for a batsman and also retaining the same attack that had failed in Birmingham. It might have been logical to think that a spurned Siddle would have had plenty of others around him to help him work through obvious dismay. Instead he was left stewing on his own. Perhaps it was just as well - the thunderous look on his face suggested anyone, friend or foe, would have paid a price for going near him.

After the Ashes slipped away over little more than two days, in a heightened version of what had transpired at Edgbaston, Marsh tried to explain the decision to leave out Siddle. His selection would have been one of "four or five" decisions that could have been correct or could have been wrong. The composition of the team for Nottingham was the "hardest selection" Marsh had ever been involved in. Siddle, meanwhile, thought his last chance to play a Test match had gone, only a matter of months after his Cricket Australia contract had also been taken away. He said as much to Ricky Ponting.

In preparation for the "dead rubber" Oval Test, most assumed that Pat Cummins would come into the XI. It was another greenish pitch, but as far as Siddle was concerned the horse appeared to have bolted. But on match morning a funny thing happened. Marsh, now the man entrusted with the chairman's casting vote, decided that Siddle was the best option as third seamer in these conditions. Ignored at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, Siddle would play. For the first time since Adelaide last December, he marked out his run in a Test match.

With Siddle in the side, things did not turn out the way they had in the previous Test. Once again Australia were sent in, but this time they batted as if meaning to stay for hours rather than minutes. David Warner, Chris Rogers, Steven Smith and Adam Voges all dug in. For the first time since Lord's the bowlers had something to aim at. Clarke, in his final Test, pulled the right rein by slotting Nathan Lyon into the attack with a still new ball - Alastair Cook's wicket was his reward. Siddle was not called upon until the 13th over, a short wait at the end of a long one.

Either Adam Lyth had been observing how Siddle was ignored so far in this series, or he had been listening to Shane Warne's commentary at breaks in play. His first-up pull shot was presumptuous to say the least, and the skier gave Siddle a wicket with his second ball. There was plenty of release about the celebrations, but any impression that this was merely a lucky break would be assuaged in the ensuing overs.

As he had always promised to, Siddle bowled the perfect English length and line, troubling Joe Root like no other bowler this series, and putting a severe clamp on the scoring. The top of off stump was perennially in danger; in the case of Ian Bell, even more so. Taking after Siddle's example, others prospered also. None more than Mitchell Marsh, who swung the ball and hit the seam consistently. Australia's bowlers hunted like a pack again.

At day's end, England had collapsed in a heap, and this most mystifying Ashes series had yet another reason to cause spectators confusion. Smith had observed it all, and was in little doubt as to how well Australia had bowled - better then any other day. Siddle had helped enormously. "Today's probably the best we've bowled all series," he said. "We've got the ball in the right areas, made them earn their runs, which is pretty important in these conditions, and we've reaped the rewards as well.

"I felt Peter bowled really well today. He was swinging the ball a little bit and seaming it as well. I think he was just putting the ball in the right area and let the wicket do the work. I thought Mitchell Marsh was the same. I keep going up to him and saying just keep being patient, just keep doing the same thing and today he did that. He was able to continue putting the ball in the right area on fourth, fifth stump and inviting the player into playing the ball and I thought our bowlers did a terrific job."

A terrific job to leave this match very much in the lap of the tourists, but also one to place plenty of heat upon the selectors. Marsh, who had once been so convinced about needing a bowler of a certain type in Perth, left it until the Ashes were gone to remember that conviction can also apply to English seamers. At 30, Siddle may never get another chance to use his English skills in a match that truly matters. If he wants to know why this is so, he will have to take it up with Marsh. So will others at Cricket Australia.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

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