Australia’s already depleted fast bowling stocks have been further depleted with scans confirming Peter Siddle has suffered stress fractures in his back and now faces an indefinite spell on the sidelines.
Siddle reported back pain during the first Test against New Zealand in Wellington earlier this month and returned to Australia last Monday for further examination of the injury after being ruled out of the final Test in Christchurch.
That examination showed stress fractures in his lower back and, having been told a prolonged period of rest is the only cure for the complaint, the 31-year-old is taking the opportunity to also undergo exploratory surgery on his left ankle which troubled him during the Australian summer.
"Peter returned to Melbourne on Monday and had scans following the bout of back pain he suffered during the first Test in Wellington," Bupa Support Team Physiotherapist David Beakley said today as the Australian team returned home ahead of next month’s World T20 tournament in India.
"Unfortunately those scans have indicated a stress fracture in his lower back.
"He will now require a significant amount of time away from the game with a lengthy rehabilitation process.
"Whilst he is laid off with his current back injury, we will take the opportunity for Peter to have exploratory surgery on his left ankle to investigate and treat the cause of his ongoing ankle pain.
"Once that surgery is complete we will have a better idea of his prognosis and likely rehabilitation time frame."
The veteran of 61 Tests, Siddle suffered stress fractures in his back in 2010 with the injury keeping him out of Test cricket for nine months.
Having been dropped from the Test team for the series against India last summer and the West Indies in June last year, Siddle fought his way back into the XI for the final match of last year’s Ashes campaign in the UK but might now find it even tougher to add to his career tally of 208 Test wickets.
His cause might be helped by the regular curse of injury that continues to haunt Australia’s fast bowling fraternity and the prospect that more will undoubtedly fall by the wayside with a packed schedule of limited-overs and Test cricket between now and the start of the 2016-17 season.
Pat Cummins and Kane Richardson are currently also sidelined with stress fractures of the back, James Pattinson made his return to Test cricket last week after almost a month away from the game with shin soreness and Nathan Coulter-Nile returned to first-class ranks today after dislocating his shoulder.
Test spearhead Mitchell Starc is also recovering from ankle surgery that he underwent while recuperating from a stress fracture in his foot late last year, with Bupa Support Team Head Coach Darren Lehmann confirming he won’t return for several more months.
Quick Single: Starc's injury recovery on track
While the quick himself told cricket.com.au this week he's targeting the tour of Sri Lanka in July and August, Lehmann is hoping to have his strike bowler back before then.
"We're hoping he'll be available in the West Indies part of the one-day tour there (against the home team and South Africa next June) and then full tilt at Sri Lanka (where Australia plays three Tests and limited-overs matches in July and August)," Lehmann said of Starc.
"That would be the goal for us and the medical team.
"He's going pretty well at the moment."
In the wake of Australia’s two-nil series win against the Black Caps, skipper Steve Smith acknowledged that one of the most pleasing aspects of the success and his team’s rise to the rank of number one Test team was the performance of fast bowlers brought in to cover injuries and retirements.
With Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson both ending their careers last year, and Starc, Siddle, Pattinson and Coulter-Nile unavailable at various stages of the summer just completed due to injury, Australia has called heavily on its reserves of front-line quicks.
Tasmania’s Jackson Bird returned to the XI for the Tests in New Zealand and uncapped South Australia seamer Chadd Sayers was also part of the 14-man squad that toured the Shaky Isles.
"You always want your strike bowlers on the park as much as possible but I guess that's the way cricket works, particularly with fast bowlers,” Smith said in Christchurch yesterday.
"They can go down at any time, and I guess that's a credit to the Australian system, having so many guys around that are capable of playing Test cricket.
"We've seen Jackson Bird get an opportunity in the last two games and I thought he bowled really well, particularly in this second innings (at Hagley Oval) to take five wickets.
"It's great to have the stocks in Australia to make sure we're putting a good side on the park every game we play."
Lehmann indicated today the XI that carried Australia to the top of the ICC Test rankings with the wins against the Black Caps is likely to undergo some changes for their next Test assignment, in Sri Lanka next July.
Lehmann said one of the lessons learned from previous failures in Test matches away from home, most notably last year’s Ashes defeat in the UK, was to ensure the national selectors chose players who are proven in the conditions in which those series will be fought out.
That is, not simply assuming the batters and bowlers who do well on faster, bouncier pitches in Australia and New Zealand will automatically be able to adjust their games to vastly different tracks such as the low, slow pitches they are likely to face in Sri Lanka.
"It (Sri Lanka) will certainly be different to here," Lehmann said in Christchurch.
"How much that changes (the make-up of the Test XI) I don't know but you'd have to have a couple of spinners and blokes who play spin well.
"That's the biggest thing when you play away, you have to change and not fight the conditions.
"I think we've learnt that along the way."
Lehmann identified the efforts of the ever-changing bowling attack as well as the performances of the specialist batters as the main reasons for the turnaround of Australia’s fortunes since the losses at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge that cost Australia the Ashes.
And the fact that his team has posted first innings scores of 500-plus in each Test – save for the Adelaide Oval match against NZ that was played in conditions where the pink ball dominated and the rain-affected New Year Test in Sydney – since the Ashes.
"The runs in the first innings of each Test match helped, plus a bowling attack that’s always getting 20 wickets," Lehmann said when asked to pinpoint the major changes since England.
"I think we’ve done that (take 20 wickets) pretty consistently over the last few years but the runs have eluded us at certain times.
"I’m really pleased for the batting group to have turned that around over this summer and then here in New Zealand.
"We’ve probably got the better of the conditions batting-wise with the toss (which Smith won in both Tests in NZ) but that’s the way it goes in this game sometimes.
"I’m pleased we’ve made big runs in the first innings.
"That helps. It certainly gives you more time in the game."