DUBAI (Reuters) - Surviving the wiles of Pakistan spinner Yasir Shah is Australia's "number one plan" in the upcoming test series in the United Arab Emirates, fast bowler Peter Siddle has said.
Yasir played a key role in Australia's unravelling during the last UAE tour in 2014, when the legspinner took 12 wickets at an average of 17.25 to drive the hosts to a thumping 2-0 win in the two-test series.
Four years later, a raw Australia squad has returned to the Gulf state without two of their best batsmen in the suspended Steve Smith and David Warner, and would appear vulnerable to another spinbowling assault from Sarfraz Ahmed's team.
Looking to counter Yasir and 19-year-old prodigy Shadab Khan, Australia have re-hired spin bowling consultant Sridharan Sriram and flown in two Indian wristspinners, including Pardeep Sahu, who has played for Indian Premier League side Kings XI Punjab.
Siddle said the tourists had spent plenty of time in the Dubai heat working out ways to deal with legspin and Yasir, specifically.
"He's (Yasir) going to play a big part," said the veteran paceman.
"Spin bowling in this series is going to play a massive part.
"I think it's going to be a tough contest. He bowled well against us last series over here. He took a lot of wickets, so I think it's going to be number one plan to keep him out.
"But he's not the only one we've got to focus on as we get closer."
Recalled to the test squad for the first time in two years, 33-year-old Siddle expects to play a support role behind Australia's own spinners but believes the Dubai wicket could be more lively than usual after hosting the recent Asia Cup.
"I think the last series we came here, the wicket was a bit more flat," he said.
"It sort of took a few days to actually break up but this series it looks like it's going to break up a lot earlier so spin is going to play a part."
The test series is Australia's first since the scandal-plagued South Africa tour, which led to long suspensions for former captain Smith, Warner and batsman Cameron Bancroft for ball-tampering.
Under new captain Tim Paine and recently appointed coach Justin Langer, Australia will hope to build cohesion on the tour ahead of their home series against India later in the year.
With regular pacemen Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins ruled out of the tour by injury, Siddle said he felt his experience was an important factor in his recall as the team strive to forge a new identity.
"From an outside point of view, the side probably in the last little bit maybe lacked a little bit of leadership," he said.
"I think without having the captaincy or vice-captaincy or any of those terms, it's just about being a leader in my own right, doing what I do, lead by example and just help out the young guys."
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)