Lee's lack of form makes his place insecure

Australia 349-7d & 379-7d Sussex 311 & 373-7 (Match drawn)
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The Independent Online

To Lee or not to Lee? Are the Australian tourists about to drop Brett Lee? They have five fast bowlers contending for places in the First Test in 10 days' time and four of them, including Lee, were intending to strut their stuff here yesterday, while off-spinner Nathan Hauritz was trying to make the case for the inclusion of a specialist spinner rather than relying on batsmen to provide the spin bowling.

But a glance at Sussex's second innings suggests the problems are unresolved. Having been left 417 runs to win, Sussex's batsmen were mostly untroubled and were only 45 runs behind at the close. Australia's coach, Tim Nielsen, commented: "We certainly can get better. No doubt about it."

Of the fast men, Lee and Stuart Clark looked rusty, both needing a long bowl. Ben Hilfenhaus did not look the answer to a selector's prayer. The best of the bunch was Peter Siddle, whom Nielsen suggests is a shoo-in for the Cardiff Test. He was the only paceman to take a wicket until Lee dismissed Rory Hamilton-Brown lbw, his only wicket in 14 overs for 51 runs. Will they drop Lee? Nielsen was sympathetic, but he would be unwise to take his place for granted. The favourite for the chop is Clark.

After Hauritz returned 0 for 98 off 18 overs in the first innings, the general assumption has been that four fast bowlers will be chosen. Hauritz produced better figures (1 for 60 off 20) yesterday but this game has not helped his chances.

The crucial factor was that Mitchell Johnson, the main man in the Australian attack, was missing here. He might have knocked Michael Yardy off his stride, but in the first hour Sussex cruised along at a run a minute. Once Carl Hopkinson, a 27-year-old local boy, set about the attack, whatever the pace, the run-rate rose to close to four an over, and he made all the bowlers look ragged. His 115 came off 138 balls, including three sixes and 14 fours. The large crowd was delighted with him.

But the most memorable incident was courtesy of Ricky Ponting, who stood at cover under a leading edge from Hopkinson when he had scored 69. Ponting did as the textbooks say, holding his hands up as if in prayer. He dropped it. The crowd enjoyed that too.

It seems most unlikely that this team will ever be called Invincible. It may find one later on but so far Australia lack an aura. "I'm fairly comfortable at the moment," says Nielsen. But there is plenty to do.