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23 Jul 2009 15:44
Brett Lee’s hopes of featuring in next week’s third Ashes Test at Edgbaston suffered a major blow on Thursday as the injury-plagued pace bowler was ruled out of Australia’s tour match against Northamptonshire.
Lee has been sidelined for the first two Tests against England after injuring his side in Australia’s final warm-up match against the England Lions at the start of this month.
With Ricky Ponting’s side trailing 1-0 in the series, the tourists had hoped to include Lee against Northamptonshire to prove his fitness for the Edgbaston clash.
But he was restricted to stretching and jogging exercises at the County Ground on Thursday, while his teammates prepared in earnest in the nets to face their hosts in a three-day match starting on Friday.
Mike Hussey, standing in as captain against his old county, later confirmed at a press conference that Lee will not be playing.
An Australia team spokesman declined to confirm Lee’s unavailability in Northampton definitely rules him out of an imminent Test return. But the consensus is that there is little chance of him being risked next week, unless in an emergency.
In the 32-year-old pace bowler’s absence in the first two Tests, Australia dominated an opening draw in Cardiff and then lost at Lord’s last week.
One of their main worries has been the form of Lee’s strike-bowling partner Mitchell Johnson, who will play against Northamptonshire in the hope of finding his range in time to help Australia battle back into the five-match series in Birmingham.
The Queensland left-armer was expected to be Australia’s main threat on his first Ashes tour after an impressive series in South Africa, but he has struggled to adapt to English conditions.
However, Hussey insists he won’t over-bowl Johnson in an attempt to get him back on track.
“He seems comfortable and was focused at training,” Hussey said on Thursday.
“Him and [bowling coach] Troy Cooley are very clear on what they need to work on.
“Hopefully he can come into the game in a good frame of mind and clear on what he wants to work on and can get his confidence right up for the next Test.
“I don’t want to bowl him into the ground as there is just over a week until the [third] Test starts.
“I don’t want him punching out 25-30 overs in an innings or anything like that.
“I’ll communicate with him and see how he’s feeling, and also take into account the situation of the game.”
Hussey admits Australia’s prospects of retaining the Ashes received a boost when England batsman Kevin Pietersen revealed he will miss the remainder of the series after undergoing Achilles surgery.
“It’s a big loss for the England team, he has been a quality batsman for a long period of time,” Hussey said.
“He’s played well against Australia and is probably the lynchpin in that batter order. To not have him there has got to be a plus for us.
“They have some good replacements who can come in and do a very good job—if you lose one player it doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to win or lose the series.”—Sapa, AFP
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