Lee makes most of Ashes shoot-out
Veteran pacemen Brett Lee remains hopeful he will be selected in Australia’s team for the first Test after a useful run-out in the first warm-up match with Sussex.
The 32-year-old has been at the cornerstone of Australia’s success during the past decade. However, his place in the team ahead of the Ashes opener in Cardiff on July 8 is by no means assured.
Injuries have seen Lee struggle to recapture his best form during the past 12 months - he has taken 21 Test wickets at 48 in that period - with Mitchell Johnson having now taken his mantle as the spearhead of the Australia attack.
And with the likes of Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus also making their mark during the successful tour of South Africa earlier this year, when Lee was sidelined by injury, some pundits in Australia believe Lee’s time has past.
Lee himself admits those players’ progression means he could find himself on the sidelines come Cardiff, although he went some way to pressing his claims in the tour opener against Sussex which finished as a draw yesterday.
In what was billed as a ‘bowl-off’ between Lee, Siddle, Hilfenhaus and Stuart Clark ahead of the first Test, the New South Welshman grabbed four wickets - the most of any of his apparent rivals - on a batsman-friendly surface.
“Without putting pressure on ourselves, we know it is a bit of a shoot-out. But that is exciting too,” he said.
“We’ve always had one eye on the Ashes. I love England and the opportunity to play over here. I’m going to enjoy the Barmy Army as well.
“I will be out there playing the hardest and competing the best I can. If I am doing that I expect to be playing in that first Test match.”
Despite his good form in Hove, Lee knows he will again have to impress in the final warm-up game against England Lions this week when Johnson is expected to return to the team.
Johnson is assured his place in the first Test and after yesterday’s play Australia coach Tim Neilsen said fellow seamer Siddle, who bowled better than the three wickets he took in Hove, was “a lock” to join him.
That would leave just one fast bowler’s berth open for Lee, Clark or Hilfenhaus, although off-spinner Nathan Hauritz’s form at Hove could force a re-think of that strategy.
Hauritz took one wicket for 158 in the match, but as the only specialist spinner in Australia’s touring squad is expected to get the nod in Cardiff where the pitch is apparently set to suit the slow bowlers.
Nielsen indicated, however, that Hauritz still has plenty of work to do to secure his place while also intimating he could yet opt for an all-seam attack in Cardiff.
That would seemingly provide reason to enthuse Lee, although the veteran is not counting his chickens just yet.
Lee was memorably overlooked for all four Tests of Australia’s history-making tour of India five years ago, when they won a series in country for the first time 34 years, and as a result the paceman knows not to take his place for granted.
“I’ve been on both sides of the fence,” he added.
“In 2004 in India, I was 12th man for four matches straight.
“It is going to be hard work, and I will be trying my hardest to make sure I am in the team.”