Australia v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 4th day December 1, 2008

Lee regains his spark

An in-form Lee is essential for Australia to succeed in their contests against South Africa and England in the next nine months and his average of two wickets per Test in India was a worrying return

Lee took a career-best match-haul of 9 for 171 © AFP (file photo)
Australia came home from India with more unanswered questions than when George Bush plays Trivial Pursuit but at least Brett Lee has responded in the affirmative to one of the biggest queries. An in-form Lee is essential for Australia to succeed in their contests against South Africa and England in the next nine months and his average of two wickets per Test in India was a worrying return.

There was even talk Lee, 32, would be rested for one of the New Zealand Tests, so after Stuart Clark and Mitchell Johnson outperformed him in the wickets column at the Gabba the pressure was really on. Lee countered with the best match figures he has ever collected in a Test when he helped finish off New Zealand on the fourth day in Adelaide and ended up with 9 for 171 for the game.

It was the ideal medicine for Lee, who had picked up a virus ahead of the fourth Test in India on a tour that had already proved gruelling. After his marriage break-up in August he skipped Australia's one-day series against Bangladesh, lost match fitness and battled to regain his bowling mojo. In India Lee's pace was down and so were his spirits, and he returned home under as much scrutiny as his struggling colleagues Brad Haddin, Matthew Hayden and Clark. "I lost a lot of strength," Lee said. "It only feels now over the last couple of weeks that the strength has come back. The results show that as far as pace and wickets. I'm ecstatic to get nine wickets in a Test."

Four first-innings successes was a good start, although his figures were inflated by wrapping up Iain O'Brien and Chris Martin, two of the least accomplished batsmen in world cricket. His spark really returned on the fourth morning when he bowled ten overs on the trot, including a period when he grabbed 4 for 14, to kill off any lingering hope of New Zealand saving the game. On any surface that would be a remarkable session but on a flat Adelaide Oval pitch it was a magnificent sign for the man who has spearheaded the attack in the post-McGrath era. Even though two of the wickets came from poor shots when Aaron Redmond and Jesse Ryder flailed in one-day fashion, Lee was consistently beating the bat and bowling at impressive speed.

He drew genuine edges on several occasions, once to have Jamie How brilliantly caught at second slip by Ricky Ponting and twice against Daniel Flynn, who was put down by Haddin and sent another one flying past Ponting. A solid catch off his own bowling that ended Ross Taylor's stay completed his pre-lunch highlights package. He returned to trap O'Brien lbw and his 5 for 105 was well deserved.

Just as importantly, Lee was looking genuinely happy. He was waving and smiling at the Adelaide crowd, and cheerfully signing autographs while fielding at fine leg. Even towards the end of a ten-over spell that would have exhausted a man ten years younger, he was haring around in the outfield and hurling balls towards the stumps with the sort of energy that he has lacked.

The spark is necessary at a time in his life when some fast bowlers depart or are pushed from the top level. None of Jason Gillespie, Craig McDermott, Merv Hughes, Geoff Lawson and Graham McKenzie played a Test past the age of 32. But instead of worrying about age, Lee is already preparing himself for the first Test against South Africa, which starts in just over a fortnight.

"I've been improving every match. That just goes down to strength," Lee said. "The next couple of weeks are going to do me a lot of good I think, being back in the gym, having a great strength programme, putting back on the kilos that I've lost. I'm getting really close, although bowling ten overs straight wouldn't have helped today."

Lee remains confident that he has several years left in him and for the time being he has answered one of Australia's post-India questions. Clark's wickets at the Gabba and Haddin's brilliant 169 on Sunday have also boosted the team's confidence and if Hayden and Andrew Symonds can start building some big scores, the side's form puzzle will be almost complete. With a fired-up South Africa about to hit the country for three Tests, Lee's timing is impeccable.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Alexander on December 5, 2008, 9:17 GMT

    Those criticising Brett Lee for not having lots of five wicket hauls in his career to date are perhaps forgetting that for most of the time he has been in a side which also had McGrath and Warne - two of the greatest bowlers of all time. Up until the last couple of years, he didn't even get the new ball. If McGrath and Warne had not been around, he could easily have 400-450 wickets by now.

  • Rajaram on December 2, 2008, 5:39 GMT

    It is wonderful to see ALL the Aussie fast bowlers peaking at the RIGHT TIME.

    From December 17,2008 to April 17,2008 we are about to witness the greatest spectacle ever - the TRUE World Championship of Cricket - the No.1 side, Australia and No.2 side,South Africa,playing against each other, both home and away.Tests and ODIs. Never before in Cricket History, have Cricket lovers had such an opportunity! Fasten your seat belts,book your holidays,or stay glued to your TV sets!

  • James on December 1, 2008, 22:59 GMT

    As a supporter of Aaron Redmonds selection (although still preferred Matt Bell) at the start of the English tour, the first innings of the Adelaide test shows that he does have some skill to bat at test level. However, both ways that he got out were irresponsible if your being polite, and damn right ludicrous if you are being honest. It is not as if he is an early 20 something either, he has been around the traps for 10years. I personally think he should be dropped for stupidity - although that is an over-reaction. Furthermore, NZ does not have the luxury of 3 levels of batsmen either. The best should be selected and stuck with - based on first class performance and technical skills. ALA Hamish Marshall, where did he go??? Big test hundred against Australia at number 3 and then told to open to retain his. Come on NZ Cricket, get some brains on selection and stick to the best we have - rotating random potential players does nobody any favours.

  • Zaz on December 1, 2008, 22:10 GMT

    Brett Lee has done well in this match but this NZ is probably the poorest NZ team on record. Lee is a first class athlete and professional but in terms of bowling is at most a good bowler.

    It was proven in india that when conditions are against him and against top class batsmen he struggles. His record of 30 runs per wicket and not ever achieving a 10 wicket haul in a rest match proves he cant be included in the category of a top class fast bowler, its a pity.

  • M. on December 1, 2008, 21:25 GMT

    Brett Lee is probably the most exciting pace bowler in international cricket today. His enthusiasm, his personality and most of all his fearsome pace brings star power to cricket. He is also one of the nicest people you can meet - equally gracious to all. I am so happy to see him get his strength back and be the wicket-taker that he was meant to be. My heart goes out to him for the great sorrow he must have suffered in the break-up of his marriage. Don't worry Brett, the whole word loves you!

  • Mukund on December 1, 2008, 18:52 GMT

    It is heartening to see the fast bowler take wickets consistently and destroy the opposition. While he wins many hearts with his congenial demeanor and his rock-star looks (at least with the female fan following), it warms the hearts of the genuine cricket follower also who admires his beautiful outswingers with the new ball which sucks many a top-order batsmen into nicking one into the slips or cleaning up the castle when it comes to the late reverse in-swingers with the old well. However, Brett Lee would do well to remember the record of some of his predecessors in the form of Glenn Mcgrath or Dennis Lillee who had outstanding averages and strike rates which was mantained over their career. Some may argue stats don't always represent accurate skills, but you needn't look beyond the great Bradman to prove otherwise

  • Cric on December 1, 2008, 17:57 GMT

    A 5-fer against a side that struggled to beat Bangladesh-- and we're already talking about his revival.

  • SRINI on December 1, 2008, 12:27 GMT

    Nice to see Brett Lee regaining form. However this raw New Zealand is not a real indicator of performance levels. Hence Australia cannot think the question about Lee's effectiveness is completely answered.

  • Adhil on December 1, 2008, 9:43 GMT

    I think from this,we(nz) can see where we are at test level & sadly but honestly poor.we cant keep blaming it on an inexpierienced team when the team has been through the mills for a year or so now.the batting is as woeful as they come.i really fear for a collapse when we are batting because it has become a trademark,really! This batting line up has been failing 4 quiet some time now,the problem is who do we replace them with,the resources are so thin.the bowling is efficient in bowling conditions but on flat pitches,its pretty tidy but less penetrative.i think nzc should make some to get bk the icl players.screw india & hopefully the demotion in the rankings will give this team a wake up call.we can be in the top 5 but at the moment this team lacks the hunger.hope moles can make an impact with his english determind attitude

  • gopinathan on December 1, 2008, 9:14 GMT

    This is a good turn around for Australian's after a great show by SOuth African's in the completed series against Bangladesh. Even though B Lee has picked 5 wickets with a match winning total of 9 wicket's, his average still remains above 30 for a quite a bit of time where has his economic also gone up to almost 3.5 per over. This is a bit worry for the Australian's, since the much expected ashes series are in the line against the attacking England men. He will be more keen to reduce not only his weight also his average & Economy. Also hoping him to make more wickets in an innings than a blower of his class has only 5-for even after reaching 309 wickets.

  • No featured comments at the moment.