Lee swings into XI for Cardiff
Glenn McGrath used to do this when coming back from injury. He'd look awful enough for the obituaries of an outstanding career to begin. Brett Lee has learned a lot from his team-mate, who spoke to the side as he passed through Worcester this week, and copied his effectiveness by taking 5 for 53 against the England Lions.
Not only did he prove he wasn't headed for the fast-bowling knackery after his fifth ankle operation last January, he demonstrated perfectly how to deliver searing reverse-swing in preparation for what the Australians expect will be similar conditions in Cardiff. "Without giving too much away, the plan was to scuff the ball up as quickly as possible when the ball goes flat in the middle overs," Lee said.
"In a meeting before the game we tried to work out ways that we would bowl effectively in Cardiff, with the ball being scuffed up on that type of wicket. It took about four or five overs to get it going and they threw me the ball. That's when I feel at my deadliest."
The spell of sustained late movement, which included being on a hat-trick after he bowled Joe Denly and had Ian Bell lbw, reminded Lee's team-mates of his performance in Antigua last year when he took 5 for 59. "When the ball is tailing in, it's pretty hard to get the ball out of my hand," Lee said. "You always feel like you're in the game as a fast bowler. It did take me back to playing against West Indies, so it was fun times."
While Lee was limping through his recovery from surgery he was being overtaken by Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle in the team rankings. For a bowler with 310 wickets it was a worrying feeling and entering the final tour match before the Ashes his spot was not sealed. It is now. "I haven't trained for 25 weeks to sit on the sidelines," he said.
Now he sees himself as a bowler with two roles. "My job is to try to get early wickets and then to come back with the older ball," he said.
Dennis Lillee had to slow his pace late in his career to extend his playing days, focussing on swing, seam and guile. As Lee walked back to his mark in the third session he swished sweat from his forehead with a finger, just like Lillee did, but he achieved this success without reducing his speed.
"The key ingredient really is for him to bowl at 93mph," Stephen Moore said after his 120 held up the Australians and took his side to 302 for 6 at stumps on the second day. "Even Mitchell Johnson and Stuart Clark, bowling in the late 80s, weren't getting it to drift in as much as that. Having chatted to some guys who know their stuff, it seems the extra three miles per hour makes a lot of difference."
Moore knows he is well back in England's plans but was pleased to have registered a solid century against elite opponents. "There are some very good guys there keen and raring to go [above me]," he said. "I've got full faith in those guys, but you never know what happens. If anything untoward happens I'm going to make sure I'm there and ready."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo