Fired-up Lee seals Test berth
Brett Lee guaranteed his immediate Test future with a maiden five-wicket haul in an English first-class game that came in a stunning spell of reverse-swing against the hosts' 2nd XI. While his fast-bowling team-mates went wicket-less in Worcester, Lee delivered in a nine-over effort either side of tea to seal his spot for Cardiff next Wednesday and hold the England Lions to 302 for 6.
At the start of the day Lee, who is returning from ankle surgery, was fighting for his place and with England dismissing Warwickshire for 102 in their practice game at Edgbaston, Australia needed a spark and he provided it to finish with 5 for 53 from 20 overs. Stephen Moore and Joe Denly were already enjoying a century stand and the visitors were soon distracted in their defence of 358. Lee was fooling around with the crowd when he was called to refocus by Ponting with an impromptu spell.
Play stopped while he stretched at the end of his mark and he struck with his third ball, a reverse-swinging offering which broke Denly's stumps on 66. It was not a fluke. Next delivery Ian Bell showed the resolve the Australians would expect from him when he was hit on the pads with a searing, late-moving yorker. Vikram Solanki somehow managed an inside edge to avoid the hat-trick from another toe-crusher that scooted to the fine-leg boundary. The ball was 45 overs old and when Lee held it, it curled like the wispy clouds above the ground.
Lee's speed remained above 90mph throughout another warm day and the reverse-swing gave Australia hope of matching England's quicks during the Ashes. The late movement from the hosts was responsible for the tourists' 2005 defeat and since then the bowlers have been searching for the answer under the coach Troy Cooley.
Another curving full ball from Lee removed Solanki, who was bowled off his pad on 8, and Moore's attractive 120 ended when he top edged a hook, Brad Haddin collecting a running catch towards fine-leg. More clever thought was shown when Lee managed an inswinger to trap the left-hander Eoin Morgan lbw on 4. His five breakthroughs had come in 40 deliveries with the ball darting both ways.
He was accurate in the morning, giving up only seven runs in five overs, and missed an lbw in his first before bruising Denly's shoulder. The only Lee-related problem was he didn't pick up an early wicket and Denly and the local Moore put on 172 until the fast bowler returned slightly disgruntled from his Ponting directive.
Playing his first game of the tour, Mitchell Johnson lacked fluency but will not be concerned as long as he receives another long spell in the second innings. However, Stuart Clark has some doubts, especially if slow and low pitches like this one are on offer around the country over the next two months. Like Johnson, he was unable to break through and tried not to grow frustrated at his lack of penetration, bounce or seam movement. Ponting loaded his fielders straight and until Lee started steaming the slip cordon was heavily trimmed.
Clark may still win a reprieve for Cardiff after Nathan Hauritz was targeted successfully. The one time he was able to justify a long appeal he was jeered by the crowd. Next ball Denly thumped him to long-on, in front of the hecklers, and in the following over Moore cleared the boundary straight down the ground. Fifteen runs came from his opening three overs and by the end of the day he had 0 for 80 off 18, seemingly making four fast bowlers the only option for next week. Strangely, Marcus North, who is expected to contribute with his offspin in Cardiff, was not used until late in the day, when Steve Davies cut an edge to Michael Clarke via Haddin's glove on 53.
When Clarke was used for four overs in the second session Denly and Moore were dominating and the Australians must have been thinking about how they would cope with England's best batsmen next week. Moore brought up his half-century with a hooked six off Johnson and the crowd stood for their boy when he cover-drove Lee for four during his vicious spell. His innings lasted 178 balls in a strong audition for back-up duties over the rest of the season. Denly also performed strongly until he was responsible for igniting Lee's burst.
It has been a good match for spearheads attempting to regain their Test status, with Steve Harmison helping to finish off Australia's innings by removing Michael Hussey's off stump in the morning. Hussey added seven to walk off with 150 and Harmison led his side with 4 for 80
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo