Australia v India, 2nd Test, Sydney, 3rd day January 4, 2008

Johnson must work on the Lee way

Brett Lee's dismissal of Yuvraj Singh was the result of a well thought-out strategy © Getty Images

At one end Mitchell Johnson was struggling with his line while at the other Brett Lee's was almost perfect. Since accepting Glenn McGrath's responsibilities, Lee has not only bowled as tightly as his predecessor, but has been able to maintain the pace that ensures his penetration remains undiluted. Over the past four Tests he has been a damaging performer and an intelligent role model.

Players from the subcontinent come to Australia expecting bouncers by the over whenever they encounter a springy surface. Lee has been particularly thoughtful with his use of the short ball, employing it like a savvy wrist-spinner and his wrong'un. Having been made aware of Lee's danger, a batsman's weight drifts on to the back leg and he wonders when the next missile will be aimed at his chest or forehead. Enacted properly, the strategy disrupts both mind and footwork.

The method was illustrated best against Yuvraj Singh, who was hit on the body turning into a speedy short delivery. Dravid, Laxman and Tendulkar were able to avoid any lasting physical pain during their innings, but Yuvraj's energy has sagged over the past week and evasion was too complicated.

With a bruise and further uncertainty adding to his inclination to play back, Yuvraj's legs grew heavier and he was unable to deal with a follow-up full ball, which angled away and caught him lbw. It was similar to Lee's removal of Wasim Jaffer on Thursday, when the batsman could not convince himself to move forward and negate the swing from what turned into a potent yorker.

In the first over after lunch Lee welcomed Tendulkar with consecutive bouncers. Neither was meant to get him out, but they were delivered to remind him immediately of what might follow. Only the best survive such high-quality operations for sustained periods. Lee refused to let Tendulkar rest even after he reached his century.

Two edges in a row came after tea without Tendulkar's wicket. His steps have slowed in middle age, but they have been too certain for Australia over the past couple of days. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Anil Kumble were not as fortunate and they fell to similar nicks, contributing to Lee's 5 for 119, which was completed with the caught and bowled of Ishant Sharma. In two months as the attack leader he has 27 wickets, a collection an in-form McGrath would have been pleased with, and his opening five-for of the season went with a first-innings 59.

Lee has also tried to guide Johnson during his early journey with the Test side. The pair has spoken throughout the India and Sri Lanka series, but any magic advice has not worked in this innings. Johnson has tended to push his deliveries a long way outside off stump despite determined attempts to correct his wrist position and direction.

At delivery his hand is rolling towards the off side instead of being behind the ball and the change in action is preventing inswing to the right handers. What were meant to be challenging deliveries provided few difficulties for the batsmen. Too many times he has either been driven through cover or left alone and he faces a busy time before the game in Perth to correct the flaw.

The problem has not stopped Ricky Ponting from giving Johnson a heavy workout and he pushed through 37 overs, the most of anyone in the match. After promising displays in his first three games, his return of 2 for 148 was not one to remember and the second innings could be critical with Shaun Tait bursting for inclusion at the WACA.

At 26, Johnson does not need to be in a hurry to master his skills. Lee waited until he neared 30 to mature into a bowler worthy of the world-class tag. He looked to McGrath for help and inspiration. Now Johnson needs to do the same thing with Lee.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo