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The Ashes: Injured Lee Left Out Of Tour Game

By on July 23, 2009

The Ashes 2009 - Brett Lee

Brett Lee’s chances of returning for next week’s third Test have been reduced after he was left out of Australia’s tour match against Northamptonshire on Friday. There was an outside chance Lee would be picked in an attempt to prove his fitness from a stomach injury that ruled him out of the first two Tests, but the selectors have decided against rushing him back.

Australia, who are behind 1-0, missed Lee when Mitchell Johnson misfired at Lord’s and the fast bowler must now prove he is ready for the intensity of back-to-back Tests through his work in the nets. Lee, who has taken 310 wickets in 76 matches, was under pressure entering the tour following ankle surgery, but he showed his form during the warm-up match in Worcester before succumbing to the stomach problem.

Lee’s absence allows Stuart Clark a chance to push for a recall after he was left out in Cardiff and Lord’s when Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus were preferred to support Johnson. It is expected that only one of Hilfenhaus, who performed strongly at Lord’s, and Siddle will turn out in the three-day fixture.

Australia named a 12-man squad and have given the captain Ricky Ponting, deputy Michael Clarke and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin a break, leaving Michael Hussey to lead the side. The game will be no easy ride for Johnson or Phillip Hughes, who are fighting for form after disappointing starts to the series increased the pressure on their spots.

Hughes has been roughed up by Andrew Flintoff’s short-pitched attack while Johnson was unable to hold a consistent line at Lord’s. Despite the setbacks, which include some family issues back home, Johnson has still managed to take eight wickets and the Australians don’t want to give up on him.

“I don’t want to bowl him into the ground as there is just over a week until the Test starts,” Hussey said. “I don’t want him punching out 25 to 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 said Johnson seemed to be in a good frame of mind. “He seems comfortable and was focused at training,” Hussey said. “He and [the bowling coach] Troy Cooley are very clear on what they need to work on.”

The allrounders Shane Watson and Andrew McDonald will appear in their first matches of the tour alongside Graham Manou, the back-up gloveman. Ponting, Clarke and Haddin have scored a century each in the series and will turn their thoughts to rescuing the Ashes instead of facing Northamptonshire.

Australia squad Phil Hughes, Simon Katich, Michael Hussey, Marcus North, Shane Watson, Andrew McDonald, Graham Manou, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Stuart Clark, Ben Hilfenhaus, Nathan Hauritz.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

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