SYDNEY, Oct 31 (Reuters) Australia fast bowler Brett Lee is very much at ease with his new status as one of the old guard in the world's best cricket team.
The blond firebrand still hurls the ball down the pitch at great pace and celebrates his wickets flamboyantly but, at the age of 30, he recognises that his role in the team has changed.
''There is an added pressure and more responsibility of course but to be honest that is a good thing,'' Lee told Reuters. ''One of my jobs now it to help the younger bowlers and that is something I enjoy.'' Lee will open the bowling in the first test against Sri Lanka starting next week and, following the retirement of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, will be by far the most experienced member of Ricky Ponting's attack.
Lee has played 59 tests since making his debut in 1999, 50 more than his new ball partner Stuart Clark, while Mitchell Johnson and Shaun Tait, one of whom should get the chance to fill McGrath's big boots, have played just two tests between them.
Clark bowls in much the same style as McGrath, concentrating on accuracy and subtle variations, Tait generates similar express pace to Lee and Johnson is a lively left-armer.
''Stuey is very similar to Glenn and that's good for me because it means I can just concentrate on doing my own thing,'' Lee said. ''Whether it's Mitchell or Shaun doesn't really matter to me, they are both bowling well and bring something different to the attack. I will be there to offer advice if they want it.'' GRUELLING SCHEDULE Lee missed this year's World Cup with an ankle injury but says he is raring to go as Australia embark on a gruelling schedule of up to 20 tests in 2008.
''I'm feeling pretty good to be honest and while it was disappointing to miss the World Cup it probably did me a bit of good in the long run,'' Lee said. ''The schedule is not too bad, the test series are mixed up with one-dayers. I have had a good break and to be honest I can't wait to get started again.'' Lee said it would be strange not having McGrath to share the new ball with but his former New South Wales team mate has no doubts that Australia will make light of his absence.
''As soon as Brett came into the team it was obvious he was something special bowling at that pace and with that enthusiasm,'' McGrath said.
''He has just gone from strength to strength and experience has made him even better.'' McGrath said Lee would relish the added responsibility.
''I certainly enjoyed it when older guys retired and I took a bigger role in the team,'' he said. ''It definitely made me into a better bowler and I am sure it will be the same with Brett.'' Lee believes Australia have enough experience left in the team to continue to dominate world cricket as they have done for the past few years under Ponting's captaincy.
''Ricky has developed into a great captain and, as a batsman, he is right up there at the top of the list,'' Lee said. ''Technically and mentally he is at the top of his game.'' Most batsmen agree that few bowlers cause them as many problems as Lee, whose motivation remains as high as ever.
''I know my game and myself much better now,'' he said. ''You learn new things all the time and I see no reason why I cannot continue to improve for a few more years yet. The body is holding up well and the challenges are always there in this team.
''We want to be the best in the world and we love winning matches. I am just happy to be able to play a part in that whatever way I can.'' REUTERS TB HS1021