Australia v India, 3rd Test, Perth, 1st day January 16, 2008

Lee picks the right gears

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Three card trick: Brett Lee again led Australia's attack and struck at crucial times to cut down India's innings © Getty Images
 
As a young bowler Brett Lee did not understand why it was necessary to pace himself, but over the past two years he has worked on picking the moments to go flat-out. Since taking over from Glenn McGrath as Australia's bowling leader he has collected some crucial breakthroughs to swing the momentum back to his team and on the opening day he did it on three occasions.

Having chosen the wrong end in an effort to run with the breeze, he switched after four overs and quickly picked up Wasim Jaffer. Later in the day he stepped up to capture the crucial wicket of an on-song Sachin Tendulkar, although the lbw dismissal was unfair, and VVS Laxman was forced into an ugly pull shot with the second new ball.

"I now know when to go up and down a gear," Lee, who finished with 3 for 64, said. "There are times when you're bowling at 95% and trying to get the right line and length, but there are times when you have to go full tilt, like when you need a wicket. You've just got to work out when to do it and when to pull back."

Lee's first spell went for 25, but as soon as he sprinted in from the Lillee-Marsh End his day changed. "I wanted to take the wind first up, but the ball didn't swing for the first couple of overs because it was coming over my left shoulder instead of my right," he said. "I asked to go to the other end after four overs and it started swinging immediately and I took the wicket of Jaffer. If the wind is coming over your right shoulder it's always happy days."

Temperatures hovered in the mid-30s and the Australians were drained by the heat, which contributed to them managing only 84 overs. Lee was not concerned by the slow over-rate - "When four quicks are steaming in off 30-odd metres on hot days it's tough" - but the weather was more of an issue.

"When you see seagulls walking around with their mouths open you know it's a pretty hot day and a few of our guys were doing it as well," he said. "It was tough out there and you've just got to hang in."

India finished at 6 for 297 and Lee was hoping for a quick clean-up on day two before putting his feet up in conditions expected to reach 39C. "If we had them four-down for 300 it might have been a different story, but with those two late wickets, making it six-down, Australia are in a pretty good position."

Rahul Dravid, who top scored with 93, thought Lee was at the top of his game. "Over the last year and a half he has had pace, but he has also bowled in the right areas and been thinking about his dismissals," he said. "He has been improving all the time since I first came here in 1999." Lee will probably never be as thoughtful as McGrath, but he has done an outstanding job of covering for him.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo