Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here
Oh, for a Dennis Lillee. As Australia's third-string attack sweltered in the Perth heat on Sunday, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus were on their enforced holiday, both working towards the aim of returning refreshed for the first Test against Sri Lanka. Would they have performed any better than Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson and John Hastings, who eventually dismissed South Africa for 569? We will never know. Their bowling workload was deemed too heavy in Adelaide for the selectors to risk them at the WACA.
Siddle sent down 383 deliveries at Adelaide Oval, Hilfenhaus 321. The three-day break between matches was not considered adequate. But reflect on the workload of Lillee, one of the finest fast bowlers the game has seen. In December 1976, he bowled a phenomenal 535 deliveries against Pakistan, also at Adelaide Oval, the greatest workload a genuinely fast bowler has endured in the modern era. After a two-day break he was back in action for the next Test and took 10 for 135.
Lillee, now the president of the WACA, was at the venue on Saturday and Sunday, watching Hastings, Starc and Johnson toil. On Saturday night, he and some of his colleagues got together for a few drinks and talk turned towards Australia's resting of fast bowlers. Ian Chappell, who captained Lillee in 20 Tests, wondered what reaction he would have received had he asked his strike fast man to sit out of an important match.
"You couldn't have convinced me," Lillee said on Sunday. "[Last night] Ian said, 'I can just imagine me trying to say to you you're not playing the next Test, I'd have to duck real quick wouldn't I?' My theory was never give a sucker an even break. That was just me. I used to think if someone else gets a game and he gets five-for, you've got to get back in the side."
Although it is difficult to imagine a side featuring Lillee being mauled and milked for runs the way the Australians were over the past two days, there were times during his career when the opposition batsmen made him earn his keep. But there were only six occasions during his 70 Tests when the opposing team piled on 500-plus totals, and while he sympathised with Australia's attack at the WACA, he noted that the lack of a distinct spearhead was a problem.
"I think they bowled pretty well and they had an opportunity there to knock South Africa over for 140-odd [in the first innings]," Lillee said. "I don't think they grabbed that, they [South Africa] batted well as well. But I think that attack is a pretty good attack. You've got to weigh it up and say the guys who had a three-day break, would they have bowled any better? There's talk about them being tired and whatever. Would they have bowled any better? Who knows.
"Great bowling attacks, let's look at [Dale] Steyn, there's a go-to man. The go-to man is the man that can break it open and is the man that when it gets a bit tough and you can't get a breakthrough, you go to that guy and he often comes through. I guess this attack at the moment, you probably can't say that there's a go-to man. I'm not being unfair on them but I just think that they're all around that 135-140 mark and there's not someone like a Steyn who can go up a gear and down a gear. All good attacks have that one go-to person."
In the end, Starc picked up six wickets and Johnson collected four, but by then South Africa had all but batted Australia out of the match. Neither man was in Australia's starting attack at the beginning of the summer, and with Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Ryan Harris all sidelined by injury, the group being used at the WACA was realistically not even Australia's second-string attack. When all the bowlers are fit, Pattinson is the one Lillee believes can best spearhead the attack.
"Pattinson looks a very, very good prospect to me," Lillee said. "If he can stay fit and stay on the park then he looks a bloody good bowler to me."
The problem for Pattinson, as for the rest of Australia's fast bowlers, is staying on the park. Do they train too little? Do they play too much? Are their recovery methods right? Lillee had no definitive answers, but noted that his modus operandi was never to bowl in the nets for less than an hour at a time, and to go for a five- to six-kilometre run at least once a fortnight. He also conceded that the amount of cricket played these days made the balancing act tougher.
But you can bet he wouldn't have been rested after bowling 321 balls in a Test.