CARDIFF, July 7 – Australia were left with a major selection headache after fast bowler Brett Lee was ruled out less than 48 hours before the first Ashes Test against England with a rib muscle injury in his left side.Team physiotherapist Alex Kountouris, speaking at a news conference here Monday at the squad’s hotel, confirmed Lee would miss the series opener which gets underway at Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens on Wednesday.
Kountouris added Lee was also doubtful for next week’s second Test of the five-match series at Lord’s.
"I’ve sustained a small muscle tear which has ruled me out of the first Test," Lee said at the same news conference. "I’m very disappointed."
Lee, one of the survivors from the 2005 Australia squad that lost the Ashes 2-1 in England, indicated soreness in the left side of his ribs after last week’s draw with the England Lions in Worcester, where he bowled himself into contention for the Test team with a haul of six wickets for 76 runs.
"The scan revealed he has a small strain in one of his abdominal muscles – the internal oblique muscle," Kountouris said. "It is not as bad as it could have been, so we are going to monitor it over the next couple of weeks."
Asked if Lee would be fit for next week’s second Test at Lord’s, Kountouris added: "He is not out but the chances are slim."
This injury was a bitter blow for Lee, Australia’s senior fast bowler on tour with 310 wickets from 76 Tests.
The 32-year-old has not played a Test since December because of foot and heel injuries but his performance against Worcester appeared to have seen him win his ‘bowl-off’ with Stuart Clark for a pace berth alongside fellow quicks Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle.
"If it was my ankle and something of a structural thing I would be a lot more concerned," a defiant Lee said.
And he was adamant the injury had not come about because of trying to do too much to regain his Test place.
"I didn’t push myself too hard, it was just that I had six months away from four-day, five-day cricket. It was probably a do-or-die match for me personally. It’s part of fast bowling. It just happened at a pretty bad time.
"I still see myself playing a major role for Australia through the end part of the series. Hopefully, I’ll be back shortly.
"I was going hard. I never doubted it in my own mind, but it was more so about me showing I could get close to the 100mph mark again and take wickets again which I’ve done. I am proud about that."
Lee added: "Over the last 16 years I think it’s only second time I’ve torn a muscle in my body which is pretty remarkable for a fast bowler."
And he said bowling in an Ashes Test when less than fully fit was not an option. "I won’t be putting myself or team in jeopardy by playing when I am not 100 percent fit. That’s not what I am about."
His injury means Australia, who hold the Ashes after their 5-0 success on home soil in 2006/07, will go into Wednesday’s match with none of their attack having before bowled a ball in a Test in England.
But a raw Australia side minus Lee still managed to win a Test series in South Africa earlier this year and he said: "We’ve got a very strong bowling attack. The guys did the job in South Africa when I wasn’t there."
Lee’s absence means Australia’s selectors must now choose between the likes of swing bowler Ben Hilfenhaus, Clark and out-of-form spinner Nathan Hauritz.
When the Ashes were last played in England four years ago both the home sides wins in a 2-1 series success came when fast bowler Glenn McGrath, missed the second and fourth matches, at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, respectively, through injury.
Indeed McGrath’s ankle injury on the morning of the Edgbaston Test, when the hosts were 1-0 down in the series, effectively turned the Ashes England’s way.
"The good thing is I know Glenn is floating around somewhere, he looks fit so he might be putting his hand up," joked Lee.
"But now it’s the start of the tour and hopefully we can settle in and be 1-0 up leaving Cardiff."
He added: "The pinnacle is to play in an Ashes series, that’s what it is all about. I am gutted I won’t be there for that first Test match."
But he stressed: "I’ll find a way to bounce back. I’ve gotten back after five ankle surgeries so I am sure some little muscle strain won’t keep me out for too long."