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Lehmann out, Stewart still uncertain

Melbourne: Shane Warne’s leg-spinners aren’t the only thing Australian selectors have to replace in the last two Ashes Tests against England. A shoulder injury to Warne leaves a void at first slip and at the top of the lower order in the batting line-up.

While skipper Steve Waugh has a replacement in leg-spin bowler Stuart MacGill, an injury to batsman Darren Lehmann has compounded Australia’s problems before the fourth Test starting Thursday at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Lehmann was Wednesday ruled out of the Test due to an infection in his right leg. Rookie Martin Love will replace Lehmann in the batting line-up and stand in for Warne at first slip. However, that ray of hope didn’t last long for England. Wicketkeeper-batsman Alec Stewart, still hampered by a bruised hand, remains in doubt, according to the BBC’s website reports.

Stewart, 39, said Wednesday the problem was still bothering him and he would struggle to keep wicket for two full innings at Melbourne. “If it was a one-day game then I wouldn’t have a problem. But in a Test match I might be keeping for 120 overs or more,” Stewart was quoted as saying. “If I play then I won’t be playing fully fit.”

Reserve wicketkeeper James Foster, 22, trained with the team Wednesday. Foster has played six tests. The 22-year-old has played one first-class match on tour, making eight runs.

Waugh needs first slip

“We need to find a new first slip,” said Waugh. “We rearranged the cordon after Mark’s (Waugh) departure. It’s a significant event because Melbourne generally gets a lot of catches in the slips.”

Waugh warned England not to underestimate the threat of MacGill and described him as one the best leg-spinners in the game.

Warne suffered a partial tear in his right shoulder during a limited-overs match against England and will be sidelined for between four and six weeks. “His presence here in Melbourne is important with the crowd that gets right behind him and (that) tends to lift the side,” Waugh said of his former vice-captain.

A sell-out crowd of 70,000 was expected to fill the MCG, which has a reduced capacity due to redevelopment work.

“From an opposition point of view they’ll be more relaxed because Warney has got this aura about him,” Waugh said. “And when that’s missing the opposition will sense that a bit as well.”

Love was an automatic replacement for Lehmann after scoring a season-high 781 first-class runs at an average of 130.16, including two double centuries against England for Queensland and Australia A.

Waugh described the 28-year-old Love as a quality player with an all-around game, who could bat at No. 6 on debut. “He has a very good temperament, ideally suited for Test match cricket,” Waugh said. “He’ll command automatic respect although he’s playing his first Test match.”

England skipper Nasser Hussain said that although Australia had already clinched the Ashes with consecutive wins in the first three games, there is plenty of tough cricket to be played in the last two Tests. “Just because you’ve lost or won the series, it doesn’t mean the next Test match is either more or less important,” Hussain said. “The Boxing Day Test match is special.

“As a youngster you always want to play against Australia at Melbourne on Boxing Day and the boys will have to lift themselves for that.”

Butcher’s hunch

Meanwhile, England batsman Mark Butcher is hoping it will be fourth time lucky again for the tourists. “It was a similar situation (in the Melbourne Test of 1998-99) to the one we’re in now,” Butcher was quoted as saying in The Age newspaper Wednesday. “We’d lost the Ashes going into the Melbourne Test and we ended up winning the fourth Test just like we won the fourth Test at Headingley (last year).

“So maybe it’s the fourth game in the series that’s the lucky one for us.”

Butcher said England’s two wins in the triangular one-day series against Sri Lanka last week had helped morale after 13 previous games on their Australia tour without a victory. “Things do look a lot brighter after a couple of wins. People are a lot more relaxed,” Butcher said.

“When you’re losing all the time everyone tends to get a bit tense and uptight and you don’t enjoy yourself. These tours are long enough without people being down in the dumps and at each other’s throats and it’s good we’ve got a couple of wins to alleviate the pressure.”

TEAMS

AUSTRALIA (from): Steve Waugh (captain), Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn, Martin Love, Adam Gilchrist (wicketkeeper), Stuart MacGill, Jason Gillespie, Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee or Andy Bichel.

ENGLAND (from): Nasser Hussain (captain), Marcus Trescothick, Michael Vaughan, Mark Butcher, John Crawley, Robert Key, Alec Stewart (wicketkeeper), Alex Tudor, Richard Dawson, Andy Caddick, Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison, Chris Silverwood and Paul Collingwood.

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