Spoiled for choice: Aussie selectors’ bowling dilemma
THE biggest selection decision awaiting Australia over the next 48 hours has nothing to do with the batting.
It's shaping as Peter Siddle versus Josh Hazlewood.
Batting collapses have invariably been Australia's achilles heel in Test cricket in recent years and world class bowling attacks have generally picked themselves.
But the last Ashes tour of the UK in 2015 - the one where Australia was all out for 60 - must also be remembered as a sobering lesson for the pace attack.
There was nothing shameful about the returns of Mitchell Starc (18 wickets at 30) and Hazlewood (16 wickets at 25), except a general feeling that they missed their mark at the critical moments.
After the urn was surrendered at Trent Bridge four years ago, Hazlewood was dropped for the fifth and final Test, and in came Siddle who took 6-67 when it was already too little too late.
Even then, Rod Marsh had to use his authority as National Selector to overrule the push for Pat Cummins from captain and coach, to get Siddle a jersey for his only appearance of the series.
In two innings, Siddle showed selectors what they had been missing, as he suffocated England into submission at The Oval.
Siddle is now 34 years of age, but he has spent much of the past four winters routinely dissecting batting orders in English County Cricket.
When Justin Langer dropped a bombshell by recalling Siddle to the Test set-up for last year's tour of the UAE, it was with one eye on this Ashes series.
There was a long-term plan for Siddle, and the sooner he was brought back in and around the group, the better.
But there's only so much Siddle can do in the nets and in the dressing room. If you've got an English specialist, as Australia see Siddle, don't you have to play him?
As Peter Lalor wrote this week, the 'R' word is back in Australian cricket and all the fast bowlers picked for this series are likely to get game time.
Whatever happens, it seems almost certain that for Thursday's first Test in Birmingham, the old firm of Hazlewood and Starc are going to be broken up for a reason other than injury.
James Pattinson is raring to be unleashed on England and the expectation is he will play at Starc's expense in the first Test.
There's a school of thought that breaking up Starc and Hazlewood - despite the dominance of their international records - isn't necessarily the worst thing for the competitive tension it can open up.
However, resting Starc is one thing, but the potential for Hazlewood to also miss the cut to start the series, is most intriguing.
The first Test in Ashes cricket so often proves decisive, so it really is a crunch decision whether Siddle or Hazlewood starts in the run-on side.
On one hand, Hazlewood is arguably still Australia's best Test match bowler.
The fact Australia took a major risk in deciding to hold Hazlewood back from the World Cup in order to get him fit and firing for the Ashes - much to his personal disappointment - adds another layer to the decision that awaits.
Hazlewood was shattered enough at being omitted from a World Cup he felt he would be fit for, that he won't want to wait for his return to Test cricket.
But on the other hand you have Siddle, who has been purposefully picked because he is a master of the conditions.
If you're not going to play him on the juicy Edgbaston deck, then why is he there?
In Australia's intra-squad match just gone, onlookers were impressed with how Siddle contained Steve Smith.
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Given Siddle's age and Pattinson's injury history - it's hard to argue that Starc and Hazlewood aren't still in Australia's top three fast bowlers.
But does that mean either of them should play the first Test in England?