Injured Lee in doubt for Ashes
Brett Lee has been ruled out of the first two Tests of the Ashes series with a low-grade abdominal tear and is no guarantee to play thereafter. As revealed by Cricinfo, the Australian fast bowler experienced pain down his left side following last week's tour game against England Lions in Worcester, and will be sidelined for the Cardiff and Lord's Tests at the very least.
Lee was absent from Australia's training session at Sophia Gardens on Monday after being sent to London for scans, which revealed a small tear in an abdominal muscle. His absence has thrown Australia's planning into disarray ahead of the first Test, which begins on Wednesday, and will deny the tourists the services of their most decorated bowler.
"There probably is a bit more disappointment that it is an Ashes Test," Lee said. "I'm extremely disappointed. I'm gutted that I won't be there for that first Test match. But I'll find a way to bounce back. I've gotten back from five ankle surgeries so I'm sure one little muscle strain won't keep me out for too long.
"I still see myself hopefully playing a major role for Australia through the end part of the series, whether that's the second, third, fourth or fifth Test match, depending on how things go. I'm very disappointed but it's not the end of the world. I've got a couple of weeks now to get it right. I'll be hopefully running in a couple of days if [the physio Alex Kountouris] lets me. I'll be working on my fitness ... and hopefully I'll be back shortly."
Lee was comfortably Australia's best bowler in the tour match in Worcester, claiming 6 for 76 in the first innings and displaying a mastery of reverse-swing, but his 35 overs have come at an immense cost.
Prior to the injury, Lee seemed certain to partner Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle in Australia's pace attack in Cardiff, with Stuart Clark and Nathan Hauritz duelling for the final bowling position. Precisely how the Australians will compensate for his absence remains uncertain, but Lee insisted the lessons from South Africa - in which Australia swept to a 2-1 series victory with a relatively untried pace line-up - would serve them well in the Ashes.
"I was going pretty much as hard as I possibly could [in Worcester]," Lee said. "I suppose I had to prove to myself that I can do it again. I never doubted in my own mind but it was more me going out there and showing that I can get close to the 100 mile an hour mark again and take wickets, which I've done. I'm proud about that and obviously I have sustained a small muscle tear which has ruled me out of the first Test match. Yes, I'm disappointed, but it's not the end of the world.
"It gives somebody else in our team an opportunity. We've got a very strong bowling attack here. The guys did the job in South Africa while I wasn't there. We've got a great bunch of guys, guys who are willing to go out there and do the hard work. I've got the utmost confidence in the guys that they can do the job out there."
Lee, Australia's most senior bowler with 310 wickets from 76 Tests, only recently returned to action after undergoing foot and ankle surgery following the Boxing Day Test against South Africa. The tour matches against Sussex and England Lions were his first outings outside of Twenty20 competition this year, and his display in Worcester last week had prompted many to feel that he was nearing peak form.
Kountouris said Lee could have faced 10 weeks on the sidelines had the injury not been detected so early. "We're pretty thankful it's not the more severe side of things," Kountouris said. "It is a relatively good outcome. We got it pretty early. Brett's pretty sensitive with his body and knows when things aren't quite right. We got it nice and early I think."
Kevin Pietersen resisted the temptation of indulging in a spot of pre-Ashes schadenfreude by expressing sadness for Lee. "It's a huge, huge loss for Australia," Pietersen said. "Who knows with the Australian team? It could be cat and mouse... [but] it's sad for [Lee] if it's true. We keep in touch and are pretty good mates.
"He's a fantastic competitor and an amazing bowler. We've all seen how he's bowled in the last couple of games. He's a huge, huge, huge player for Australia. There's his experience in the dressing room and also the intimidation he has on batsmen around the world, because he's the fastest bowler in the world."
Michael Clarke, Lee's Australian team-mate, expressed sympathy for his colleague. "He's worked really hard over the last 12 months to get back," he said. "I only found out this morning that he was having the scans, so it came as a bit of a surprise to me. The most important thing is to get Brett as fit as possible."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo