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Brett Lee has withdrawn from Australia's squad, leaving their attack short of variety. Australia's precarious preparations for the World Cup took a turn for the worse today when Brett Lee withdrew from their squad. The selectors have called up Stuart Clark as a replacement, but even allowing for Clark's Test pedigree - he was the leading wicket-taker in the Ashes with 26 at 17 each - this a serious blow to their chances.

Lee injured his ankle during a training session in New Zealand and saw an orthopaedic surgeon yesterday, who told him that his recovery would take up to three months. "I think it's every young kid's dream to play for their country and to play in a World Cup is probably what it's all about as far as one-day cricket goes," he said. "To get told you don't have a chance to play in a World Cup squad is really disappointing. I couldn't undergo the exercises, there's too much pain there ... there was absolutely no chance of me playing in the World Cup."

With 267 wickets at 23 in his one-day career Lee is a vital component of Australia's first-choice side. He brings pace and firepower to their attack. Only Shaun Tait, who has played just four one-day internationals, has a comparable threat.

Clark was omitted from the original squad on the grounds that, with Glenn McGrath, Nathan Bracken and Shane Watson already pencilled in to start, the team was over-stocked with medium-fast bowlers. For a bowler whose line is so relentless in Test matches, Clark has proved distinctly vulnerable in the shorter game. His 35 wickets cost 31 each, and, most importantly, his economy rate five-and-a-half per over. He lacks the variety to resist attacking batsmen, and notably was hit for 87 off a seven-over spell against Brian Lara and Chris Gayle during a game in last autumn's DLF Cup.

The risk of a chronic lack of variety will improve both Tait's and the left-armed Mitchell Johnson's chances of starting during the Cup. Neither has great experience at international level. However, with Andrew Symonds uncertain to recover from his shoulder injury in time, and Adam Gilchrist due to miss the opening rounds due to the birth of his child, Australia are facing up to an increasingly difficult start to their World Cup defence. An attack which failed to defend successive scores of 336 and 346 against New Zealand is looking seriously creaky, and in losing Lee, they have lost their best bowler.
 
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