Lee speeds back into Australia's one-day squad
Brett Lee is on target for a quick return from injury after being fast-tracked into Australia's one-day squad for the series against Pakistan later this month. Lee had an ankle and foot operation in January and initially eyed a comeback through the Indian Premier League, but his plans changed when he convinced the selectors and support staff of his improving health.
Andrew Symonds is also part of the squad for the engagements in the UAE following his Cricket Australia clearance for a string of off-field issues. Shane Watson, who is recovering from back stress fractures, is in the 14-man outfit that will be led by Michael Clarke. Ricky Ponting will rest ahead of the World Twenty20 and the Ashes along with Mitchell Johnson and Michael Hussey.
The appearances of Lee and Shaun Marsh (hamstring) are subject to fitness while Watson has been called as a specialist batsman, although he may take the ball later in the tour. "Brett's return to bowling at full pace will be monitored carefully and will be reviewed closer to the date of the commencement of the tour," Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, said. "He'll need to get cricket under his belt and we'll need to look at how we do that, but at the moment it's step-by-step. He's got to get back to bowling full pace before we can make any decisions."
An extra player was chosen to support Lee, with Nathan Bracken, Ben Hilfenhaus, Brett Geeves and Ben Laughlin rounding out the pace attack. Peter Siddle has been left out but remains in Hilditch's plans for the major series in England, starting with the World Twenty20 in June. "He is seen as a potentially key member of our squad for our defence of the Ashes," Hilditch said.
Symonds and Lee last played for Australia in the Boxing Day Test before heading for surgery. Lee, who flew to South Africa this week in a bid to train with the one-day team, struggled through the international summer before a stress fracture in his foot flared in Melbourne. He was also found to have a problem in his ankle and both issues were fixed during surgery.
"Whether he's passed fit or not is outside my hands," Hilditch told AAP. "But he's got a fair bit to go, basically I think he's bowling at 80% at the moment, so he's going to have to be bowling at full pace, off a full run pretty shortly. It's going to be touch and go but if we can get him around the squad sooner rather than later he'll be better off."
In eight Tests in 2008-09 Lee managed 21 wickets at 47.80 and also battled for fitness following a bout of giardia during the trip to India. He has not played a limited-overs match since the tour to the West Indies last July and his selection means his time with the Kings XI Punjab will be limited to two weeks at the most.
Symonds had a minor knee complaint and was back for Queensland in January, but he was suspended from the South Africa tour due to behavioural problems. Despite showing no batting form, he was picked last week in the 30-man preliminary outfit for the World Twenty20 and his heavy hitting and useful bowling have kept him in Australia's thoughts.
"At his best Andrew is a dynamic one-day player with an outstanding record for Australia," Hilditch said. "It will now be up to him to seize this opportunity."
Australia squad Michael Clarke (capt), Brad Haddin (wk), Nathan Bracken, Callum Ferguson, Brett Geeves, Nathan Hauritz, Ben Hilfenhaus, James Hopes, David Hussey, Ben Laughlin, Brett Lee, Shaun Marsh, Andrew Symonds, Shane Watson.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo