Brett Lee returned to international cricket with a fiery spell of 3 for 46 against West Indies on Monday night, but with Australia losing the game, his attention was trained on Friday's winner-takes-all encounter with India, where he would once again share the new ball with Glenn McGrath.
Lee spent years on the sidelines when Jason Gillespie was the preferred accomplice for McGrath, but his spells over the past two years have ensured that he's now first choice for the new ball, red or white. "It's been quite some time since we've played in the same team," Lee said when asked about McGrath, who missed the tours of South Africa and Bangladesh to care for his cancer-stricken wife. "He's taken close to 1000 combined wickets for Australia, and with his knowledge, it'll be great to have him back. I've enjoyed bowling with Glenn, he's always been a bowler that ties a batsman up, and gives me an opportunity to do the same thing down the other end. He's got that aura where batsmen are a bit wary of him, and that comes from a lot of hard work."
Lee was also full of praise for the new boy, Mitchell Johnson, who he referred to as a "fantastic find and a great bloke to go with it". Having dismissed Brian Lara in the first match against West Indies, Johnson then took 4 for 11 in the rain-interrupted game against India. "He's been a part of the squad for quite some time, and he's really enjoying that learning curve," Lee said. "He'll be looking forward to going over to India for the Champions Trophy and I'm sure he's going to learn a lot over there. The way he bowled the other night was just brilliant - good pace, great line and length.
"All the senior bowlers have tried to pass on a fair bit to the young guys. In particular, I've told him that he's got the ability to bowl fast, so he should never lose sight of that. Now, he knows he can do that, and consistently, so it's just a matter of practicing as much as possible."
Lee reckoned, however, that the Brisbane-based Johnson would benefit immensely from working with Troy Cooley in the run-up to the Champions Trophy. Lee himself was full of praise for Cooley's input. "He's experienced and the way he coached the English fast bowlers, the way they bowled against us, I think he's got a lot to offer the Australian cricket team.
"We have had a lot of batting coaches around for quite some time, but we haven't had that many fast bowlers we can ask questions of. I've done a lot of work with Dennis Lillee, who's been brilliant, but having Troy on board is great."
Looking ahead to the India clash, Lee was of the view that Australia could take encouragement from their first encounter, when they had India reeling at 35 for 5 before the rain came down. "It's always hard when you're playing a limited match caused by rain delays every five or 10 minutes, but I think we did get a bit of an advantage over them on that particular night," he said, before adding that his team's batsmen certainly wouldn't underestimate an attack that restricted them to 244 on Saturday.
"They look good, they've got quality bowlers and a great squad over here," Lee said. "I'm pleased Ajit Agarkar is back in the side, I think he's got a lot to offer Indian cricket. It's probably not in our best interests that he's back playing, but he's a fantastic bowler and the way he has revamped himself is a credit to him."
Lee wasn't too perturbed by Australia's failure to defend a score of 272 against West Indies, though he did express concern over the 16 wides and 11 no-balls bowled. "That's a non-negotiable type of thing, and something we really want to try to stop. Personally, it was great to be out there. It was our first real match in five months, and I was hoping to get out there and get the ball going through to Brad [Haddin]. I was more than happy with the way the ball came out, but the extras are something we have to look after better."
He also refused to be too critical of the rotation policy employed for the tournament. "It's quite difficult when there are 18 players on tour. Not every player's going to play three or four matches, so there's no chance to get into rhythm. Saying that, we have got plenty of depth through Australian cricket, so the way we've handled that has been quite good."
There was understanding too for Stuart Clark's plight. "I'm sure Stuart's going through a tough time right now," he said. "One-day cricket has changed a fair bit. Going back a few years, you'd be happy with 1 for 40 off your 10 overs. Now, with the extra Powerplays, if you can go under 45 to 50 on these small grounds, you've had a pretty good day. Stuart wouldn't be happy with how he bowled but everyone's been through it, been through those tough times, and I'm sure he'll bowl better next time." And given the Indian batting travails, even Clark might fancy his chances.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo