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A threat called Brett

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Bret LeeCricket, loved and revered world over as a batsman’s game has never had a scarcity of star batsmen; stroke makers who from one generation to the other have dominated the sport, record books,  news headlines and have found a gold plated seat of memory in the minds of the passionate spectators, so to speak. There was an era of the great Don where he reigned supreme. Then, Sir Sobers and Barry Richards planted their stems of greatness on the great cricketing tree. The dawn of classic batsmanship then shone bright with master stroke makers like Sunny Gavaskar, the great Sir Viv Richards and Hanif Mohammad. The follower of the modern day game was treated with exquisite delight in the form of Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara who possess between them a flurry of records, some as rare as they come, with the former still raging with great aplomb. And now, we have the Sehwags, Sangakkaras and AB De Villiers carrying forward the baton of batting dominance. But right in the middle of the road, as the art of batting and its torch bearers seem to be moving on a commanding drive, there comes a question. Would any great batsman of his era be held great had it not been for the challenging and imposing presence of the threatening fast bowlers of his time?

With the “to die for” stroke-play at both sides of the wicket intact and taking nothing away from the thumping feats gathered out in the middle, would the master run makers be labelled truly great had there been no imposing adversaries in front of them? Would the so called best batsmen carry any charm had there been no world class seamers out there challenging their might?  Cricket would never have been considered an engaging sport with just batting governing the entire process. If batting conveyed domination, the presence of mighty fast bowlers accounted for decimation. There can never be a nemesis if there is no one to be hunted right? If Bradman reigned out there, there was the master challenger in the form of Harold Larwood. Sobers faced chin music from Ken Barrington and John Snow. Sunny Gavaskar’s supremacy was tested unendingly by Marshall, Roberts, Holding and Garner. Tendulkar’s greatness has never been questioned but has had to tussle with Mcgrath, Ambrose and Akram and similarly Lara’s flamboyance sometimes found itself wanting in front of Vaas, Donald and Pollock’s attacking spells.

Right from the beginning, there have many who have delivered greatness through sheer speed hailing, but one name sealing its spot right at the top amongst the very fastest to have ever bowled in the game coming from the land of Oz, is that of the recently retired pace ace Brett Lee. Fiercely competitive to the core and lethal like a destructive weapon, Brett Lee was truly the Australian Express that ran down many a mighty scorers in the game for 13 long years. With daunting speed and armed with a herculean will to bowl yorkers and bouncers at will and an assassin like smile displayed either at missing the batsman’s timber or after disturbing the furniture behind, Brett Lee was in many ways Australian Cricket’s poster boy and a great ambassador for fast bowling in the modern day game. Brett Lee bowed out from the game in the fashion he commenced, bowling his heart out. The greater the challenge, the stronger was the resolve of Brett Lee to deliver the ultimate for Australia. Fast bowlers hunt in pairs, it is said and looking at some of the deadly combinations to have ever played the game with the likes of Akram - Waqar, Ambrose - Walsh and Donald - Pollock, one finds batsmen of all flair and composition challenged to the very core, when put up against these mighty bowlers. Playing for a nation where legendary cricketing performances were as many as the number of iconic names produced in the game, the New South Wales Expressman debuted in 1999, playing his first Test against India and his first One Dayer versus Pakistan. With 76 Test appearances and 216 ODI appearances, Lee took 690 scalps combined from both versions producing as many as 10 five wicket hauls in Tests and 9 in One Dayers. Lee, soon after debuting, was awarded the Alan Border medal and Donald Bradman Young Player award on account of his explosive fast bowling talent. Emerging as the fastest bowler in the game in an Australian side at a time when Glen Mcgrath’s reputation as the most disciplined of bowlers was as intact as was Shane Warne’s wizardry in the game, Lee’s dominance on both sides of the wicket bore a specific trademark - that destructive bouncer that took the sheen off from the best batsmen in the game. Kallis faced it, Lara was challenged by it and sometimes, the Little Master would do nothing arty apart from ducking. Generating an extra yard of pace every now and again, you would take Brett Lee at ease only at your own peril. It isn’t that hitting him to the fence or over it  is part of a coveted wish-list, but what sometimes seemed impossible would be to predict when the raging Lee would come back to his rhythm. And when he did, it would be all smiles for the Kangaroos and swollen faces for his naysayers.

During the 2003 World Cup, Lee along with McGrath and Bichel formed a deadly pace attack for Australia, with him claiming 22 off the 59 wickets they took between them. There have been very few bowlers in world cricket who have bowled at over 150 k/hr and may be none to have bowled at this speed consistently with the possible exception of Shoaib Akhtar, but with Brett Lee it was different. Every now and again, the electronic scorecard at the stadium would flash Lee’s name against the fastest delivery bowled in the game. With the tally of wickets captured in each game increasing just like those genuinely quick ones delivered at bullet speed, the Brett Lee phenomenon was rising and taking the game by storm. Lee’s pace would literally choke the ones with the gift of timing or with the prowess to score quick and through its versatility of offering would make the meanest appear as minnows in the game. Apart from speed as his constant companion, accuracy and consistency also helped him gather a rare accomplishment. For up to two and a half years of his initial career, Lee’s bowling average remained less than 20, a feat never achieved by an Aussie paceman. Post capturing 49 wickets in 2005, Lee a picked up his 200th scalp in just his 51st test match and in 2006 was adjudged one of Wisden’s cricketers of that year.

In One Dayers, Brett Lee’s bowling average of 30, marks him as one of the toughest bowlers ever to score against. He was also the numero uno ODI bowler in January 2006 announced by the ICC. In the 2003 World Cup which was an out and out Aussie ruling, Lee claimed a hat trick against Kenya, becoming the first Australian bowler to achieve it in a World Cup. A useful lower order batsman, Lee scored 5 Test and 3 ODI half centuries. But his long and committed stay at the game didn’t come easy with him being cornered out of the Australian side many a times owing to recurring calf and hamstring injuries during 2005 and 2007 series which had begun to derail a glittering career. At his peak hailed as a rising tornado, Lee’s body soon began to appear like worn out machinery, one that on account of producing lasting milestones, needed an overhaul. 

Broken with injuries but not in spirit, Brett Lee soon bounced back into action, regaining his spot in the team, sprinting once again to produce magical spells for his side. He was still passionate about the game that gave him his identity and Australia a lethal world class bowler, but the tired muscles were beginning to tell. His resolve to catch up with his great speed, a familiar sight evident early on in his career from 2002 - 2006 was still present but only as a wishful desire, and never a reality. Consulting with close friend and fierce competitor Andrew Flintoff on whether to call it a day having once again sustained a grave calf injury during his recent English tour in 2012, Brett Lee finally decided to call it a day on July 13, 2012 but not before scaling the very heights of bowling in the fiercely competitive international arena, the peaks of which he decorated with his legacy of thrilling pace. Well bowled indeed Lee.



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