Lee quick to prove form for Lord's

Leicestershire 217 Australia 169-2
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The Independent Online

It is 18 months since Lee last played in a Test match. Michael Kasprowicz has occupied the 28-year-old's spot since India scored 705 for 7 against Australia at Sydney in January 2004. Lee took four wickets in the match but he conceded 279 runs in Steve Waugh's final Test.

The New South Welshman was not the only Australian to enjoy a return to traditional cricket. Matthew Hayden's brutal innings of 75 suggested he too may be returning to his best. The powerful left-hander would have been disappointed to get out to the occasional bowling of John Maunders, but it can only be a matter of time before he turns good starts into a big score.

The Test specialist Justin Langer, in his first innings for 15 weeks, chose a more cautious approach, and by the close Australia had moved to within 48 runs of their hosts' first-innings total of 217. Langer will resume on 71 this morning and few would bet against the pugnacious left-hander posting a huge score.

Lee arrived in Test cricket in December 1999, taking 5 for 37 on his debut, against India in Melbourne. His pace and swing proved to be too hot for batsmen to handle, and in his first seven games he claimed 42 wickets. But ankle and elbow injuries, along with no-ball problems and inconsistency, have prevented him from establishing himself as Australia's spearhead.

Lee's hostility unsettled England's openers during the one-dayers, and the sight of him bowling as he did when he first broke into the Australian side is an ominous sign for Michael Vaughan's Test team, especially if he is used in short bursts between attritional spells from Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.

Lee's return leaves Kasprowicz and Jason Gillespie competing for the final bowling spot. Both had a decent workout on a low, slow pitch and the Australian selectors have a tough decision to make on Thursday morning. Since Lee's last Test Kasprowicz has taken 55 wickets at an average of 26, Gillespie 59 at 27.

Kasprowicz has been the more impressive of the two in England and this, rather than career records, could be the deciding factor.

Lee gave Australia the perfect start when he trapped Darren Robinson lbw with the first ball of the day. In his fifth over he forced Maunders into guiding a catch to Hayden in the gully. Gillespie, meanwhile, had been struggling up the hill, conceding more than four runs an over.

John Sadler replaced Maunders and was struck on the left shoulder by his first delivery from Lee. The left-hander attempted to bat on but he soon retired hurt.

Kasprowicz followed Lee down the slope and trapped Hylton Ackerman, the Leicestershire captain, in front. Chris Rogers and Jason Krejza, two of five players playing in the Leicestershire team who are ineligible to play for England, attempted to repair the damage but both fell after lunch.

Rogers, a left-handed opener from Western Australia, was undone by a Lee slower ball while Krejza, an all-rounder from New South Wales, ran past a leg-break from Stuart MacGill and was bowled.

MacGill has enjoyed previous visits to England, where he has played for Nottinghamshire, but he did not appear to appreciate the batting of Otis Gibson, who kept a disappointing crowd on their toes with several successful swipes at the ball. One slog crashed into "The Meet", an old farm shed at deep midwicket.

Gillespie had to wait until after Lee and Kasprowicz had finished their second spells before he was allowed to bowl at the end offering the fast bowlers most assistance. Once there he claimed 2 for 2 in two overs.

MacGill finished Leicestershire's innings off when Gibson was adjudged lbw and Australia used the final session for batting practice. Those who attend today are likely to witness six hours of Langer, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn, Simon Katich and Adam Gilchrist doing the same.