Thu, 22 Aug 2019

Siddle's decade of toil amid batting decline

19 Oct 2018, 02:42 GMT+10

12:15 PM ET

On days like the third in Abu Dhabi it was very plausible to wonder aloud that old question - who'd be a fast bowler? Over the past decade, Australian pacemen have become quite used to the "grin and bear it" posture after the batsmen have fallen in heaps too regular for their compatriots' liking.

It just so happens that Peter Siddle's entire Test career has lasted that same decade, starting 10 years ago this week with the hard slog of the 2008 Mohali Test. Resplendent in a coral necklace, Siddle struck Gautam Gambhir on the helmet with his first ball and snared Sachin Tendulkar as his first wicket near the end of that same day, on the way to experiencing a hefty defeat as Ricky Ponting's team effectively gave up global supremacy for the first time since Mark Taylor's team won it in the West Indies in 1995.

Siddle has played in a total of 63 Tests for 31 wins. Only eight of those have taken place overseas, and none of them in Asia. So it was not without plenty of knowledge that Siddle summed up the task faced by Australia's bowlers in the wake of a first innings that cobbled a mere 145, turning Pakistan's mediocre 282 into a vaunted score.

"We tried a few different theories at different stages, we tried a little bit last night, different field placements and bowling different areas. It does make it hard when they are so far in front and they're controlling the game. It does make it hard," Siddle said. "Today we went back to just trying to dry up the runs, just trying to build up a bit of pressure and go from there.

"It was a long day but it worked for us in the end, we weren't getting a lot of benefit from the wicket, there wasn't a lot happening there. But credit to Pakistan as well, they batted superbly to the situation of the game, they had time and they had a lot of momentum coming from their bowling innings. It was hard work but credit to all the boys, everyone that got the ball in their hand, dug in, tried their best.

"We fiddled with the field here and there but we tried nearly everything we could. It's just one of those days but like I said to get them in the position at the end of the day, whether they were going to declare or not, we don't know but to be able to get those last few wickets quickly, at least put them under some pressure with the decision they were going to make."

Such small, incremental wins are about all a fielding side can hope for in these situations, where often even first innings parity still grants the team batting third the chance to drive the game and set it up for a final day pursuit of wickets while the pitch deteriorates. This is particularly true in the second of back-to-back matches, and the toll was as clear as the laboured walk of Mitchell Starc, now nursing a tight left hamstring, and the absence of Usman Khawaja, needing scans on his left knee after spending all of day three off the field after a mishap during warm-up.

Others have felt the pinch of short turnarounds, whether it was James Pattinson tearing a side muscle at Lord's in 2013 after another first innings tumble by the batsmen, or Siddle himself - missing the Perth Test against South Africa in 2012 because he was so sore from the Adelaide draw preceding it, or suffering a back injury in Perth in 2016 after being rushed back from another stress fracture sustained in New Zealand earlier the same year. In that light, he spoke empathetically of Starc, noting how the left-armer stayed on the field throughout, albeit as a slip fielding ring-in for much of it.

"He's not 100% but the good thing was he stayed out in the field, he's bowled throughout this match when needed, so he's a work in progress with how he's travelling, but he still ran around in the field," Siddle said. "We'll just be assessing him in coming days, see how he pulls up tomorrow from spending all that time out there. At this stage a similar story is we don't know until the next couple days how he's assessed, but it was just good to see him out in the field and he still put in when he needed.

"He's pretty quiet and a pretty strong character so when things have popped up, he tries and keeps it pretty low-key. All he was thinking about was staying out in the field, backing up the boys, being out there with the lads and being able to contribute as much as he could. I don't actually know. He's kept it pretty close to his chest. It's just good to see him out there. Obviously you know he's struggling a little bit, but to see him still fight and bowl when needed, I think it shows good character that he still wants to put in for the team and be out there for the boys."

Unsurprisingly and not unfairly, Siddle pointed to the match situations he had bowled in when alerted to the unflattering comparison between his three wickets for the series at 56 runs apiece, and the 12 at 11.08 scooped by Mohammad Abbas. "He's been able to bowl when his team has been out in front and we've been under pressure," Siddle said. "It does make it a lot easier to bowl when the opposition is under pressure. His team has put him in those positions though.

"That's been the tough thing for us, that we've had to be very defensive, we've been under a lot of pressure when we've gone out there and faced him. Credit to him, he's bowled superbly, he's put the ball in the right areas, he's been patient, he's been consistent. He's had a lot of success throughout. Credit to him. He's done a lot better than a lot of fast bowlers have done in these two venues. Credit has to go to him that he's worked hard and he's done the job for his team."

At 33, Siddle was unabashedly chosen by the national selectors for his experience and hardiness, with his recent emergence as a T20 operator rewarded by a call-up as cover for Starc in the subsequent white-ball series to follow this Test. But it should not be forgotten that his re-emergence as a contender for international duty arrived via his expert use of the Dukes ball for Essex in England, in conditions so far removed from those of the UAE as to have him bowling in a beanie at times.

Eight months out from next year's Ashes tour, it would be easy to use this series as a reason to discard Siddle, particularly with a bevy of younger fast men trying to elbow each other out of the way for a Test berth in the early rounds of the Sheffield Shield. Aside from Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, current tourists Brendan Doggett and Michael Neser will compete with Chris Tremain, Jason Behrendorff, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Joe Mennie, among others.

But Australia have already underestimated Siddle's value in helpful conditions once - failing to call him up in place of the retired Ryan Harris until the story of the 2015 Ashes series had already been written, in an error acknowledged by the former captain Michael Clarke. To do so again would be to pay scant regard to the loyal service of a bowler who has had to cope with far many more average teams around him than strong ones.

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