Australia’s 12-man squad has been announced for the crucial fourth Test in Manchester starting on Wednesday.
There is a huge decision still to make before the first bowl is bowled at Old Trafford, if it has not already been made.
Do the Australians start Mitchell Starc in place of Peter Siddle, or do they omit a batsman to play Siddle? Is a three-man pace attack enough, alongside the spinning options?
The only batsmen left to leave out are Marcus Harris and Matthew Wade as the selectors will not budge on playing Tim Paine despite his poor form. As Usman Khawaja has been dropped, Harris will play as an opener.
It leaves one final selection decision to make: Wade versus Siddle. Extra batting or extra bowling?
A recent history of Tests in Manchester shows that England’s lowest first-innings total is 363 over the last ten years. First-innings totals have been high for the hosts for well over a decade at the venue, so that is a concern.
This pitch will have bounce and pace then spin. That seems par for the course in Manchester. The second innings are often much lower scores – the wicket gets tricky and the spinners take control, which appears to be a possibility in this Test.
England’s last five first-innings scores in Manchester have been 363, 589, 367, 367 and 419.
We witnessed Australia struggling to finish off England as the pitch became flatter and more batting-friendly at Headingley without an additional seamer – and that was without Starc, who tends to bowl well in short spells.
So the question beckons: do Australia play Wade or Siddle?
In 2013 – the last Test Australia played in Manchester – Siddle took five wickets, while Starc took three. Australia made a huge first-innings total, declaring at 7-527, but they batted first.
Australia controlled that match before rain prevented a probably victory. It is some time ago. The bowlers are six years older but experience counts.
Wade, of course, likes flatter wickets. His one century this tour was made on the back of some good fortune in the second innings at Edgbaston on a pitch that was flattening out. He has looked all at sea with his technique when the pitch has provided some movement in all the other innings, making virtually no runs.
This pitch could be batting-friendly in the first innings but neither side has batted well this series, with team averages being under 30 per player. Wade looked very susceptible to spin – nearly losing his wicket three or four times before he reached 50 in his century without Jack Leach playing – and there must be some question marks over his poor batting since.
The toss may be crucial. Since 2001, England have not been beaten in Manchester. The good news is Australia have played them twice in that period and both were drawn Tests, with Australia denied a near certain victory in 2013 by bad weather.
There is a huge claim in playing Siddle with Starc. Both have a good record here and Siddle may assist in the second innings, particularly if England bat first. We can’t predict the toss but Siddle would be insurance.
The top-order batsmen have been erratic outside of Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, and Siddle has scored some handy runs with the bat as well. Starc bowls well on the historically flatter pitches in England (Lord’s, The Oval and Manchester).
Notably, Craig Overton has been included for his pace over Chris Woakes but players like Jimmy Anderson have a good record in Manchester in a varied attack, which could bode well for Siddle being included.
Perhaps Wade can make a better contribution if the conditions suit his quick-scoring tempo in the first innings. It’s a dilemma but it’s risky.
Labuschagne can assist with the bowling workload but he was not used much in the first innings last match.
So Siddle or Wade?
This is the last dilemma for consideration before the Old Trafford Test begins.