Today, fast bowling tearaway Brett Lee declared that he was hanging up his boots at the end of the current Big Bash season. He is the final regular member of Australia’s all conquering Test side of the late 90’s and early 00’s to call time on his career.
Looking back, Lee can be pleased at what he’s achieved in the game, in all formats, for both his country and the club sides he’s represented. He will undoubtedly go down as an Australian fast bowling great.
But did he fulfil his full potential?
I know it seems peculiar to ask this question of a bowler who has taken over 700 international wickets. But I remember watching Lee when I was younger and he took my breath away. The intensity, the bristling run up, all channelled aggression and speed. He appeared that on his day, he could get anyone out. And quite often he did.
Perhaps why I feel that Lee left the international arena with some unfinished business, is due to the rose-tinted glasses with which I will always remember him. Sure McGrath and Warne were good bowlers, great bowlers even, but nobody made me sit up and take notice in that Aussie attack more than Brett Lee.
In the Ashes series in 2005, I remember watching him and Steve Harmison duke it out to see who could bowl faster. He finished that series with 20 wickets at an average of over 40 – and that just about sums him up. Capable of destroying batting line-ups. Capable of feeding them.
A superb bowler, fast and ferocious, exciting to watch, but something, just a tiny something lacking. In the early 2000’s, he was blessed with such pace that it was between him and Shoaib Akhtar to see who could top the 100mph mark first. Lee, as he often did in his career, fell just short of greatest.
Don’t get me wrong; Lee was a fantastic bowler, and undoubtedly one of the greatest pace-men of the last 20 years. His longevity and commitment to the team, helped him to contribute to Australia’s most successful Test side in history.
However, only 9 of Lee’s 76 Test’s were played in the sub-continent, and his average there was in excess of 60. While I will concede, that many fast bowlers have struggled on the lifeless wickets in Asia, if we compare him to a more modern equivalent, say Dale Steyn, Lee does not compare favourably. Steyn has taken 84 wickets in Asia at an average of under 23, including 26 in just 5 Tests in India.
For me, Lee will always remain an unfulfilled potential at Test level. But that is not to say he should not be remembered as a fast bowling great. While his stats may be lacking at times, I wouldn’t have wanted him to play any other way. Indeed, it can be argued that Lee did not get the wickets he deserved, often roughing up batsmen while the metronomic McGrath took the scalps at the other end.
It was his steadfast belief in bowling fast that made him so unpredictable, so easy to score off, so difficult to play. He will also be remembered as someone who always gave his all to the Australian cause. The image of him hunched over, devoid of energy, unable to even muster a look up, at Edgbaston in 2005, will be remembered as one of the most iconic Test images in history.
It is symbolic of his will, determination, and desire to succeed. It is this above all else, that made Brett Lee such a fantastic player to watch.