Lee steps up as pace spearhead
Australia's home summer began with plenty of question marks but one has turned into an exclamation point after Brett Lee emphatically answered the query over whether he could replace Glenn McGrath as the team's spearhead. Rather well as it happened: he took his best series haul against India, 24 wickets at 22.58, and was Man of the Series against Sri Lanka and India as well.
A glance at the statistics shows he was already out-bowling McGrath in terms of victims, shading him in two of the last three series they both played together. This season Lee has taken on another role McGrath thrived on - changing the direction of matches with a single spell.
Instead of being overwhelmed by the responsibility, Lee has taken up the mantle with a reliable flourish. He has enjoyed the leadership, averaging four wickets an innings against Sri Lanka, but the bigger challenge was to come. Lee did not relent in the face of the formidable Indian line-up and, if anything, he was sharper, offering tight lines without sacrificing any pace.
"With no Glenn and Shane Warne it was time for someone to step up," a smiling Lee said. "I've enjoyed that extra bit of responsibility with the team and also with Ricky Ponting throwing me the ball.
"I've been really happy with the way the ball's come out. I've been really pleased with the way I've bowled all summer." His job was even more important in a pace attack otherwise thin on experience. Stuart Clark at times looked the most dangerous of Australia's bowlers but found it hard to translate that into match-winning spells. The newcomer Mitchell Johnson was promising and improved, while Shaun Tait was hardly used by Ponting in Perth.
Australia's old guard is slowly being shed, with Adam Gilchrist the latest to depart, but he paused to pay tribute to Lee. "Brett has been just phenomenal in the way he stood up this year," Gilchrist said. "Brett has taken on the responsibility in such thrilling fashion."
Lee likes hard work and there's plenty more to come with an abundance of Tests and one-dayers. The next challenge is the Twenty20 at the MCG on Friday.
Jenny Thompson is an assistant editor at Cricinfo