We are in the 20th over. Brett Lee bowls to Younis Khan. He nudges the ball to first slip where Shane Warne tumbles to his right to take the catch. Lee interrupts his follow-through with a leap, straight and high like an Atlantic salmon. Pakistan are 60 for 4, and the NatWest Series final is not dead exactly, but it is dying.
Brett Lee is Australia's latest offensive weapon. When he arrived in London on 3 June he was said to be still recovering from a serious operation to his right elbow five months earlier. The team management were casting around for a county second XI who would give Lee a game to improve his match fitness.
He came on second change yesterday, in his fifth game in the series. He followed Jason Gillespie from the Nursery End, bowling into the wind. He seemed to be bowling within himself at around 85mph, though when he bowled with the wind from the Pavilion End he was timed at 91.4mph. You just need to remind yourself that this man coming on second change is Australia's fastest bowler and he is not yet match fit, though he is not far short of it.
When he took his second wicket he was bowling from the Pavilion End and Abdur Razzaq was beaten by pace when he mis-hooked a rising ball and was caught by Shane Warne stationed at short mid-wicket. Lee's figures for his second spell were 4-0-12-1. When the innings ended he had taken 2 for 20 in eight overs.
Lee was a surprise pick for the first series game against Pakistan in Cardiff a fortnight ago. He had bowled well enough in the nets to persuade Steve Waugh and John Buchanan, the coach, that the best way to get match fit was to play with his own team-mates. Cardiff was a torrid experience, his one wicket costing 78 runs. But his line got better and his pace crept up. At the start of yesterday's final Lee had bowled more overs (40) than any Australian, and by the end of it his 10 wickets in the series had cost a respectable 26.40.
When the Pakistan innings ended on 152 yesterday, Warne had taken more wickets (3 for 56) and Ian Harvey had slightly better figures (2 for 20) but the three fast men had taken 5 for 66 between them, and they had confirmed a message that England ought to have received already. This trio have the ability and the will to turn the Ashes series into a kind of hell. Intimidation is one name for the game of cricket among these Australians. They specialise in it, and have become good at it.
Intimidation does not just mean sledging, however, although they can be as mean as any cricketers. Their pace attack is threatening because it is so relentless. First, the opposition face Glenn McGrath's superbly disciplined line on or just outside off stump. McGrath tempted Salim Elahi to edge a catch to the keeper to put Pakistan one down. McGrath's partner, Jason Gillespie takes on the devilish form of Mephistopheles when he comes in to bowl. And, when they are rested, Lee makes sure that no batsman dare relax.
Lee, at 24, is the youngest of the three (Gillespie is 26, McGrath an ageing 31), and his short international career has been punctuated by injury, controversy and spells of remarkable fast bowling. Besides the elbow, his heels have been operated on and his back has given trouble. He was cleared of chucking last year. In between he has taken 42 Test wickets at 16.07, starting with a career best of 5 for 47 against India in 1999.
Only two things can stop him adding substantially to that total this summer. One is injury. The other is that Australia's other fast men take most of the wickets before he gets his chance.Reuse content