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Doubts creep in for aching Lee

Brett Lee at a training session ahead of the second one-dayer AFP

Self-belief has been one of Brett Lee's best assets along with extreme speed. Throughout his Test career, which began with a wicket in his first over, Lee has known what was going to happen next, whether it be achieving a milestone or pin-pointing a date for his return from a well-managed injury. This time, coming to the end of an awful year, he is unsure what his body will allow him to do next.

The bone spur problem in his right elbow means he will probably face surgery and be out for up to three months, ending his chances of appearing in a Test this summer. Previously he would have accepted the setback with a grimace and headed for the surgeon, physio and fitness trainer to plot a way back.

Following his recovery from foot surgery at the start of the year came a side strain that kept him out of the Ashes in the middle of it, and with this latest problem he is starting to doubt whether he will play a 77th Test or take a 311st wicket. His last appearance was at the MCG last December when he limped off to the surgeon.

"At this point in time I do not need to make a call," he said at the SCG. "I still want to play for Australia but that all depends on how the operation takes place and then how the fitness is and how much I want it." He finds the prospect of not playing Test cricket "scary and challenging", but as he accepts this injury his mind switches from being desperate to play on to thinking about signing off.

Desire has never been a problem before, not when he thought his career was over after breaking the same elbow in 2001, or when he was sitting behind Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus and Stuart Clark in the pecking order during the fourth Ashes Test in Leeds. He was fit, ready and shattered when the team was named, but he still wanted to field under a baggy green. Now he craves - and needs - a break.

"I have had setbacks before and I can't see why I cannot come back from this, but I also, to be honest, need to get away from the game for a little while to work out what my future holds," he said. "I want to have this forced rest and if surgery needs to happen that means anything from six to 12 to 14 weeks away from the game, which would be the perfect opportunity for me to get away from everything and work out what I want from cricket."

He sounded like Shaun Tait when he stepped off the international circuit due to mental and physical exhaustion caused by the depression of so many comebacks. It won't just be care for Lee's 33-year-old body that will be needed over the next couple of months.

Another issue pecking at him has been being away from his young son Preston for the long periods demanded of a player wanting to appear in all forms of the game. Since the start of last year's India tour Lee has been troubled by personal problems as well as fitness ones.

"The hardest things for me over the past 12 months were getting injured during the Ashes but, most importantly, being six months away from my little boy, that has been really tough," he said. "They are all things I need to weigh up." Don't expect him to be flying out of Sydney any time soon.

While any comeback will be subject to a number of fitness and family conditions, one thing is not negotiable. "If I can't bowl fast then I won't bowl," he said. His job has led his body to this rickety condition but he has always refused to follow the method of Dennis Lillee, who extended his career by slowing down and focussing on swing and seam.

For Lee it has always been about speed. "When you try to bowl 155kph for over 16 or 17 years, there is a lot of wear and tear on the body," he said. "I will try to get the elbow right.

"If I don't play another game for Australia or play another game of cricket again then yes, I am very pleased with what I have achieved. It's more than I would ever had expected at the age of 10. But I still think there is a lot of cricket left in me yet, which is why I am not making any call on my future."