Brett Lee completed the best possible audition for an Ashes Test berth with a five-wicket haul against the England Lions on Thursday.
The Lions, England’s A side, finished the second day of four at New Road 56 runs behind Australia’s first innings 358, with Worcestershire’s Stephen Moore scoring a century in front of his home supporters.
However, the day belonged to Lee, who is bidding for a place in Australia’s pace attack for next week’s first Ashes Test in Cardiff alongside front-runners Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle.
The Lions reached stumps on Thursday at 302 for six after cruising to 172 for no wicket.
Lee, who finished the day with five wickets for 53 runs, displayed great strength and control, reaching speeds of 150kph and showing no sign of the no-ball problems that plagued him in the drawn tour opener against Sussex.
As well as proving his pace, the 32-year-old New South Wales pace man also confirmed his endurance after it had taken the touring Australians 45 overs to make inroads into an experimental Lions batting line-up.
The express right-armer, who missed Australia’s South Africa tour this year following ankle surgery, ripped through the top order with the help of the beginnings of reserve swing, taking the first five wickets to fall for just 26 runs in a nine-over spell either side of tea.
“We wanted to see the ball swinging early on,” said Lee, who admitted reverse swing would play a huge part in determining the victors in the forthcoming series. “We tried to rough the ball up and get it to come back in later on. That worked a treat.”
Kent’s 23-year-old batsman Joe Denly (66) and Test hopeful Ian Bell went in successive deliveries before the interval.
It was vintage Lee as Denly, who had earlier ducked into a rising ball and been struck on the shoulder, and Vikram Solanki were bowled by in-swingers, with Bell and Eoin Morgan missing fuller deliveries to perish leg before wicket.
Bell’s first ball duck could end any hopes of a last-minute recall for the first Test at Sophia Gardens starting on Wednesday.
Lee’s golden spell was a reprieve for his ailing teammates after Australia had allowed the opening pair to compile a 172-run opening stand.
Neither Moore nor Denly are yet in Test match contention, but the pair treated Australia’s attack with disdain, piling up the game’s biggest stand.
In front of his home fans, Moore hit 15 fours and two sixes in his knock, including a six off Australia’s premier quick Mitchell Johnson (none for 101) after a lifeline on 41 when he was missed by Brad Haddin.
The wicketkeeper made amends with a finely judged catching running toward the fine-leg boundary to dismiss Moore for an impressive 120.
Denly’s half-century was more circumspect, but he did crash out-of-touch off spinner Nathan Hauritz, whose return of none for 80 cast doubt on his Test prospects, over long-on for six.
Lee’s challenger for the third quick berth, Stuart Clark, returned figures of none for 30 off 14 overs, with part-time spinner Marcus North claiming the only other wicket, Steven Davies for 53.
Australia added another 21 to their overnight total, with Michael Hussey reaching 150 before Steve Harmison cleaned up his off-stump.