July 6, 2009

Australia strong even without Lee

Their latest setback notwithstanding, the visitors' bowling still stacks up favourably against England's

A rib injury on the eve of the Ashes is tragic news for Brett Lee. He felt sore towards the end of the tour game in Worcester last week, and if he's got an intercostals injury - fast bowlers call them the grunt muscles - then he'll be out for four to six weeks. Lee has worked so hard to get things right and now he won't be bowling in Cardiff. He's probably the best-prepared player I've seen and for this to happen after such a great game against the England Lions, is such a shame for him.

The team will move forward after this but they will be disappointed to miss their main strike bowler. Lee is a Test legend and they will be crossing their fingers that whoever comes in can do the job. There were a lot of questions hanging over Lee entering the tour and if he was up to a five-Test series in England. I didn't ever have a problem with his fitness, but I did wonder about his form. He wasn't in the greatest touch before he was injured in December, and his record in England, with 29 wickets at 45 in 10 Tests, is not the best over two tours. Then he took 6 for 76 in the first innings in Worcester and added another wicket in the second. He was back and now he's out.

His absence leaves a lot of options. It looked like they were going to play four quicks until now and the injury may lead them back to picking the offspinner Nathan Hauritz in a more traditional make-up. Or they could bring Ben Hilfenhaus, the outswing bowler from Tasmania, in to do the job with Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Stuart Clark. Or play the three quicks and Andrew McDonald, the allrounder.

I was a bit uncomfortable with the thought of them going with four fast bowlers even when Lee was fit. I'm always loath to go into a game without a spinner, but the selectors seem to think differently. In the Sussex and England Lions games the batsmen attacked Hauritz's offspin, and it would be interesting to see if they do the same thing in the Tests. In a five-day game you need a spinner, but they need to pick the guys who they think will be able to take 20 wickets.

Fortunately, any of the fast bowlers in the squad could do the job. The attack will still stack up favourably with England's, even without Lee. Johnson could become a Test legend in the future, Clark has done well, and I reckon Siddle will be the X factor. He's a fantastic bowler who delivers a heavy ball, and like Andrew Flintoff, bowls deliveries that hit the bat consistently harder than the speed gun shows. He clips the top of the bat or the splice often, and has a simple, repeatable action that allows him to bowl very straight.

Hilfenhaus pitches up and swings the ball away from the right-handers, and anyone who can do that at 140kph is a handful. He's capable of long, long spells - I've seen him bowl through to lunch with Tasmania - and is a big, strong lad. Ricky Ponting plays alongside him sometimes at Tasmania and knows what he can do.

Even though Australia's bowling remains strong, I expect England's openers to get off to a good start. I like the look of Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss, and the Australians will have their work cut out to get through them. But I can't go against Australia. I reckon they will win 3-0. There'll be a bit of rain, probably at Cardiff and Headingley, and some thrilling draws.

A lot has happened since 2005; it feels like a decade ago. The last tour was a great experience and went a long way to saving Test cricket. It was disappointing for the team to lose and I was disappointed with the way I played - I just didn't adapt to the change. There were no real practice games for us, but there have been two first-class matches this time and there will be no excuses from this squad - even without Lee - over a lack of preparation.

Jason Gillespie is sixth on Australia's list of Test wicket-takers with 259 in 71 matches. He will write for Cricinfo through the 2009 Ashes

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jarryd on July 7, 2009, 15:49 GMT

    3-1 to australia. cardiff - australia lords - austalia northampton - draw birmingham - england leeds - australia

  • umesh on July 7, 2009, 14:56 GMT

    i don't think Australia will miss lee that much. he is not the same bowler he once was. if it wasn't that 6 wicket hall he probably still be unsure to get in the final 11. if he wasn't injured i think Australians would have picked him solely on his experience not his current form. SERIES- Eng 2-1

  • matt on July 7, 2009, 14:24 GMT

    Lee will be a lost but I think Austraila have enough talent to still win the series. The Batting Simon Katich is in the best form of his career. Hughes is perhaps the best young cricketer in the world.Ponting is a player that always preforms on the big stage.Hussey has a great record in England and made a century in the last tour game.Clarke is a much better player than what he was last time he came to England.North who I am a big fan of and always has been is a great player who should have a good series made a century just a few days ago. The bowling Nathan Hauritz hasn't had a great start to the tour but hasn't really done that much wrong besides the two lead up games since he came back into the team Peter Siddle could be one of the players of the series in my view. Stuart Clark: is still one the best fast bowlers in the world has 90 wickets at 22 in tests. Mitchell Johnson: has 94 wickets at 28 and 694 runs at 34 in tests perhaps the best alrounder in the world.

  • Ashok on July 7, 2009, 13:48 GMT

    Lee's loss is a big blow for the Australians, who already lost Symmonds earlier.These 2 players have can potentially decide the series by their aaproach. Australia can still recall Symmonds to restore the balance. North or McDonald are poor substitutes for Symmonds. Having said this, I still believe that the teams are evenly matched with England having the home team advantage. The Fast bowlers can exploit the swing/reverse swing much better in England than in West Indies or India.In addition England have the added advantage of better spin bowler in Swann than Australians have in Hauritz. The pace attack of both the teams is evenly balanced with Flintoff providing the shock bowler in absence of Lee for the Aussies. The series rests entirely on the fitness and availability of Flintoff & KP for all the 5 tests. Both are only at 80% fitness. If the pitches are true neither teams have the capability of getting 20 wickets. This promises to be a close series with batting forms deciding.

  • Mark on July 7, 2009, 12:38 GMT

    Someone should remind the Brits that this is Australia and you never ever rule them out. I thought Australia going to South Africa earlier this year was a formality in the ascension of the Proteas to the top of the heap and they got spanked rather badly but this very same no-name Aussiie squad. It's going to be close, it's going to be good, but Australia will retain the Ashes. Good teams find a way to win and that's exactly what Australia will do.

  • Mark on July 7, 2009, 10:01 GMT

    The core of the Aussie bowling attack is coming off a Test Series win over South Africa in South Africa.

    They are seasoned and ready....but so are England.

    Bring on the battle!

  • JAMES on July 7, 2009, 9:48 GMT

    "the Australians will have their work cut out to get through them. But I can't go against Australia. I reckon they will win 3-0"

    That does not make any sense

    Any Aussie team that tours here will always have quality players but there is no way it will be 3-0. They have lost too many key players in the last two years and it's going to be very tight. No quality spinner and one top class bowler in Johnson up against Flintoff (if fit) Anderson (rejuvenated in past year), Broad (a very clever bowler who keeps improving) and a couple decent spinners.

    Australia will be relying on their batsmen to get them out of trouble which could prove costly if England exploit the reverse swing like in 2005

    Still England always seem to find way to make a pigs ear of things and I see this series going down to the wire as in 2005

    2-1 to England and I think England will win in Cardiff if it doesn't rain too much

  • Sri Harsha on July 7, 2009, 8:24 GMT

    This is the weakest Aussie side for any ashes. apart from johnson and siddle there is no bowling attack. The batting consists of hussey ,ponting and clarke. This could be a repeat of 2005 only this time it would be a lot easier.

    Ponting is an uninspiring captain and these days he has completely lost it. He seems to spend more time in politics than building the team. Imagine Aussies dropping Symonds- the most inspiring player after Hayden. Clarke could be a better option to captain the side. Loss of Lee is gonna hurt really bad, remember Lee vs Flintoff battles of Ashes05. Siddle seems a strong character and he reminds me of Hoggard- pity Hoggy is not playing.

  • Amahl on July 7, 2009, 7:58 GMT

    I think Jason that you are correct when you say that Lee is a huge loss but incorrect when you say Australia will remain strong. Leaving aside the cricket, the dent to the Australian's self confidence will be substantial and that might prove to be a great hinderance. Again you are correct when you say it is quite vital to have a spinner in a 5 day game but Hauritz cannot be that man. You seem to be quite an advocate of Hilfenhaus which is fantastic as he is an excellent bowler and should certainly get the nod. McDonald is not a pure allrounder and I think you can call Johnson more of an allrounder than McDonald. If I had to contest between McDonald and Hilfenhaus, the latter should certainly get the nod as he is a better more threatening bowler. I do hope the Australians select a 4 man pace attack. Its the best chance they have. Though certainly in the spin department, England have already won the battle.

  • Jazz on July 7, 2009, 7:51 GMT

    Jason, Jason, Jason, where to start? Your loyalty to Lee is sadly misplaced. This injury has simply saved him from arduous hours of fruitless bowling that lay ahead of him! England will suffer due to his exclusion. Without a doubt one of the most overrated Australian players around (and aren't there lots to choose from :). 3-0 to Australia is a joke....right?? When Michael Clarke is not only your countries best player of spin but best spin player - surely thats a sign to you that not all is well in camp...hmmm? England will win 2-1 (see that, it's called humility), with rain as a factor. The decades of Aussie dominence are over, and I for one couldn't be happier!

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