Australia at start of new era, says Lee

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SYDNEY, Oct 25 (Reuters) Australia are at the start of a new test era without long-time stalwarts Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, fast bowler Brett Lee said today.

The Australians play Sri Lanka in a two-match series starting on November 8 in Brisbane and they can no longer rely on leg spinner Warne and seamer McGrath, who retired following last year's Ashes victory with well over 1,200 test wickets between them.

''It is the start of a new era but it's exciting times,'' Lee told reporters.

''In the hard test matches we've always been able to turn to Glenn McGrath or Shane Warne to try to take a wicket and get that breakthrough but now we haven't got that.'' Lee, 30, will lead the seam attack for Ricky Ponting's side supported by the reliable Stuart Clark, with left-armer Mitchell Johnson or genuine pace man Shaun Tait also in line for a call-up.

''I'm looking forward to having a chance of bowling with Shaun Tait because he's got great pace and great aggression and that's what I pride myself on,'' said Lee who has taken 231 wickets in 59 tests.

''What I can say on Mitchell Johnson is that when he has had the opportunity to bowl with the brand new ball he has always done well.'' Warne is test cricket's leading wicket taker with 708 victims, 145 more than McGrath who lies fourth on the all-time list.

Australia's new coach Tim Nielsen and Ponting also have to choose a replacement for retired opening batsman Justin Langer, with in-form Phil Jaques and Brad Hodge among the favourites.

Langer himself backed the claims of Hodge, who usually bats in the middle order and struggled on Australia's recent one-day tour of India.

''He is too good a player not to be playing test cricket,'' Langer told Melbourne Radio.

''Hodgey to make as many runs as he has at No. 3 in first-class cricket, he's obviously got the technique and the temperament to cope at any position.'' REUTERS BJR RN1319

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