Lee selection a risk - Hilditch
Australia's chairman of selectors, Andrew Hilditch, admits the selection of Brett Lee in the 15-man World Twenty20 squad represents a sizeable gamble, but was hopeful the fast bowler's forthcoming stint in the IPL will go some way to improving his match fitness. Lee, Shane Watson and Andrew Symonds were all named in Australia's streamlined squad despite limited preparations, and are likely to use the IPL as a springboard into the World Twenty20.
Lee has not played a match at any level since hobbling from the field during the Boxing Day Test against South Africa, but is poised to make his return in Thursday's 20-over match against Pakistan in Dubai. With his surgically-repaired foot now able to withstand the rigours of net training, Hilditch said Lee was a risk worth taking ahead of the World Twenty20.
"There is no doubt we spent a lot of time thinking about what the best way would be for Brett to come back," Hilditch told Cricinfo. "We did not want to take any chances with the key objective, which is getting him ready for the Ashes. He has looked extremely fit and has been training now for a few months. He has obviously missed a fair bit of bowling, but he will start with Dubai and then probably need a few more Twenty20 games to get himself going. There is still a month to go before [the World Twenty20], so there is time.
"It is somewhat of a risk. One of the big advantages in getting him over to the UAE was so we could have a good look at him in training and gauge how far he has progressed. He probably isn't quite ready, but with a few more games he will get there. I understand that he will go from the Pakistan series to the IPL, and from there to our player camp."
Lee is one of five pacemen named in Australia's 15-man squad along with Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Bracken, Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle. That left no room for Twenty20 specialist Shaun Tait, who is recovering from hamstring tendonitis and had hoped to make a late selection charge.
"By the time the tournament starts there is a possibility that he could be fully fit," Hilditch said of Tait. "At the moment he is about 80% and bowling in the indoor nets. He tried to put his name forward for consideration for the Twenty20 squad, but there was some concern that with Brett Lee already representing somewhat of an injury risk, we could not afford to have two fast bowlers in that sort of situation. It was too big a risk."
Like Lee, Watson is scheduled to make his return to competitive bowling in the series finale against Pakistan on Thursday. Watson averaged 90.33 in his batsman-only role in the five ODI series, and is likely to resume all-round duties with Rajasthan Royals in the coming weeks.
Despite a series of behavioural infractions, Symonds retained the backing of selectors and his captain, Ricky Ponting, and will figure prominently in Australia's planning for the World Twenty20. He is set to join Deccan Chargers at the conclusion of Australia's limited overs tour of the UAE. "Andrew Symonds is one of the best Twenty20 players in the world when he is at his best," Hilditch said.
Michael Hussey retained his place in the side despite indifferent form of late, and along with his brother David, squeezed the impressive Callum Ferguson out of the World Twenty20 squad. James Hopes successfully retained the third allrounder's berth, while Nathan Hauritz was preferred as the team's specialist spinner over Cameron White.
"That was probably the hardest selection of them all, if I'm to be quite frank," Hilditch said of Ferguson. "He is a young kid who has taken all the opportunities that have come his way and done exceptionally well. He is desperately unlucky not to be in the squad. In reality, this is the first time in some months that, with the exception of Shaun Marsh, we've been back at full-strength.
"[Hauritz] has made great progress in limited-overs cricket to become a regular member of the side during series' in South Africa and the UAE. Spin is having a significant impact on T20 cricket worldwide and Nathan is well placed to play a significant role in this tournament."
David Warner, meanwhile, retained his place at the top of the order and will hope for more game time with the Delhi Daredevils in the IPL to sharpen his skills ahead of the World Twenty20.
Squad: Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Clarke, Nathan Bracken, Brad Haddin, Nathan Hauritz, Ben Hilfenhaus, James Hopes, Michael Hussey, David Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee, Peter Siddle, Andrew Symonds, David Warner, Shane Watson.
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo