Lee papers over cracks in Aussie attack
Australia 358 England Lions 302-6
Friday 03 July 2009
No worries, mate? While it may be too early to appoint Steve Harmison prophet of the year, Australia clearly do have a few problems, and precious little time left to sort them out, ahead of next week's first Test in Cardiff.
Harmison's Wednesday night comment, that these Aussies do not appear "as confident and brash as normal", can no longer be applied to Brett Lee, who looked exceedingly pleased with himself – and rightly so – after producing a magnificent spell of fast bowling with an ageing ball yesterday to cut the England Lions down to size.
Having narrowly failed to break through with the new 'un, Lee instantly found reverse swing when he returned to the attack in the 44th over. In the space of 40 deliveries, either side of tea, the 32-year-old took five wickets for 21 runs, thereby ending any possible argument about his right to a place in next Wednesday's Ashes line-up. The bad news for Australia is that by the time Lee entered his purple patch, the opposition were 172 for 0 with no one else having looked menacing on a slow pitch while openers Stephen Moore and Joe Denly were enjoying themselves in the sun.
Mitchell Johnson is a certainty for Sophia Gardens. But the left-arm quickie, who became Australia's 'enforcer' while Lee spent the first half of this year recovering from ankle surgery, disappointed yesterday and went for 101 runs in 20 overs without success. Rested for last week's opening tour match against Sussex, at Hove, Johnson quickly clocked in at nearly 90mph, his powerful action more than making up for an ambling run. But whereas Lee could have won a first ball lbw decision against Moore and also hit Denly on the shoulder with a rapid bouncer, the man who broke Graeme Smith's hand twice during last winter's back-to-back series against South Africa was regularly driven by the two Lions.
Johnson's record – 94 wickets in 21 Tests at 28 runs apiece – suggests he will get it right sooner rather than later. But what of seamer Stuart Clark and solitary specialist spinner Nathan Hauritz, who appear to be contesting the last place in Cardiff?
Clark has happy memories of bowling against England, having taken 26 wickets during the whitewash series. He is on his way back from elbow surgery, however, and seldom threatened to get on a wicket-taking roll yesterday. And then there is Hauritz, who has already become a target for the jeer boys on this trip. Moore and Denly were soon advancing down the pitch and driving him much as they pleased. It could be a long tour for the spinner.
No one wanted to take any liberties with Lee yesterday, especially once the ball began reversing. Denly suffered first and then Ian Bell was pinned in front, first ball, by a booming inswinger. Vikram Solanki just survived the hat-trick delivery, only to be bowled off his pads soon after, Moore's innings ended with a top-edged pull – well caught on the run by keeper Brad Haddin, who had missed a one-hander off Clark's bowling when the opener was 41 – and Eoin Morgan fell to another full length delivery.
Steven Davies and Adil Rashid stopped the rot, piling on the agony for Hauritz in the process. But a spinner separated them in the end – part-time offy Marcus North persuading Davies to dab one to slip.
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