Ireland v Australia, ODI, Stormont June 23, 2012

Lee remains an irresistible force

Brett Lee retains all the characteristics that made him a most fearsome operator and still provides an inspiring sight in the autumn of his career

It was said of the Velvet Underground that while their audience was small, everyone who went to see them formed a band. A little less than 6,000 spectators were huddled around the Stormont ground in Belfast for Ireland's rain ruined match against Australia, yet there would have been few who walked away from the game's all too brief 10.4 overs without dreaming of bowling as fast and well as Brett Lee.

On days like these Lee can still feel like cricket's most irresistible force - certainly its most dashing. His rhythm is mesmeric, his line pristine, his swing fiendishly late, his speed thrilling and terrifying all at once. At 35, Lee is also craftier than he once was, and his use of the new ball provided a masterful lesson for all aspirant young bowlers watching. They included a teenager who was first inspired by Lee and now bowls alongside him - Pat Cummins.

After playing his final Test match in the last week of 2008, Lee has kept playing through serious foot and elbow injuries in limited overs matches, continuing to be an exemplar for both pace bowling and enthusiasm. His value can be seen as much off the field as on it, for he remains among the most recognisable and widely admired names in Australian cricket. This is not to say he is more figurehead than fast man, far from it. The opening over in Belfast confirmed his worth.

Lee entered the match needing another five wickets to overtake Glenn McGrath as Australia's most prolific limited overs wicket-taker, and for a frenzied few minutes looked like blowing past his former pace partner inside one over. Will Porterfield arrived a fraction of a second too late to play the first ball of the match, swinging into him at 90mph and zipping past a crooked bat to splay the stumps.

"I saw it all right, I just saw it go past me," Porterfield reflected later. "It was a decent enough nut, I pushed at it a wee bit, but it nipped back as well. These things can happen first up, he put the ball in the right area and you've got to give him a bit of credit as well. You've got to expect that if you're playing a team of quality, they're going to come out and hit their straps first up."

Ed Joyce was the next man out, his vast experience of playing the moving ball with Middlesex counting for little. Edging across the crease to cover the stumps, Joyce could make nothing of his first ball, which thudded into his front pad and drew a vehement appeal from Lee and his slip cordon. The umpire deemed it to be missing leg stump by centimetres, much to the bowler's surprise, but not his frustration.

Here was a moment for thought. A younger Lee might have cursed the decision, wondered at his luck and hurled down a bouncer to threaten Joyce's helmet but not his stumps. He may also have strained for a yorker and sent it hurtling down the legside for a wide or a glanced boundary. Instead, armed with 13 years of jousting with batsmen of all techniques and inclinations, Lee aimed for off stump again, if anything with less inswing than before. Conscious of getting too far across and letting the ball whir into his pads again, Joyce did not cover up completely, and the ball seamed away a fraction to flick off stump.

Lee wheeled away in familiar celebration, the face that launched a thousand Weetbix campaigns, and locals blinked at a scorecard reading 0 for 2 after three balls. An awed Cummins dubbed this opening burst "ridiculous". Niall O'Brien ground out the rest of the over, and Lee did not add to his wickets, but his bowling remained a most compelling sight throughout a spell of 3-1-10-2. It was all the more worth savouring for the fact it will not be seen for too much longer.

"To lose two wickets in the first three balls is never ideal, but he started pretty much on the money and it was always going to nip around a bit," Porterfield said. "There's not much more you could've asked of your opening bowler and we would've been looking for the same."

Cummins, for one, is grateful to have watched Lee down the years, first as a spectator, and latterly a teammate for New South Wales, Australia and the Sydney Sixers. "He's been the face of fast bowling for a while in Australia," Cummins said. "His raw pace and always being a great competitor. It's hard not to look up to him as a kid. He's everything that a young pace bowler wants to be."

Cummins is far too young to remember the Velvet Underground, but he has vivid childhood memories of Lee. He is faster and better for it.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Christopher on June 26, 2012, 12:53 GMT

    I recall watching Brett lee before he was selected for Australia.There had been talk about this kids pace,but his bowling figures in those Shield matches were rarely good.He has come a long way.His action is beautiful & more front on than when he debuted against India,but his pace,while still excellent,is nowhere near that 160km/h mark.The Australian attack will do well in England courtesy of a better length and a greater ability to move the ball than on previous tours.I have seen no evidence to suggest that Hilfenhaus is any quicker than at any other time in his career.The preparation of the Eng team by their coaches for the last Ashes was next to perfect and Cooks batting close to flawless.Hilfenhaus was carrying a niggling injury and Johnson a serious one.Its not possible to ascertain whether they would have bowled better but its at least a high probability.In reviewing the last 12 months,it strikes me that injury will have a bigger influence on the results than any other factor.

  • Dummy4 on June 26, 2012, 2:25 GMT

    People may chastise me for this, but I think the key to Aus success in next year's Ashes will be Ben Hilfenhaus and Mitchell Starc (if they decide to pick him). Starc still lacks consistency, but this will come with time. Hilfy is underrated, but the only bowler to be consistently effective over recent series'. Not only can he swing the ball more regularly than the other Aussie quicks, from India's tour down under, he has also picked up more pace. Starc also is a better prospect due to his ability to attract more swing, and this, in my opinion, will make him a more valuable bowler in Eng than Pattinson. Rate Cummins highly as well.

  • Martin on June 25, 2012, 22:18 GMT

    @jonesy2. OMG - we agree about something. It happens about once a year. Make the most of it.

  • Martin on June 25, 2012, 16:41 GMT

    The wombats LOVE Brett Lee. What a fantastic player. Be a pleasure to watch him again in England. You are the embodiment of Australianism - all hail - Brett Lee.

  • Bryn on June 25, 2012, 12:14 GMT

    australia should bat MJ at 7 and then play lee, pattinson and cummins. four lots of 150 clicks coming at england, they will go the way of a biscuit dipped in tea.

  • Bryn on June 25, 2012, 12:12 GMT

    greatest fast bowler in the history of ODI. long my it continue. what a mentor to have for the young stars

  • Samrat on June 25, 2012, 6:24 GMT

    @disg3 : I also have clear memories of watching his debut in 1999.It was the last over before tea.I can still see Binga running in and knocking back Ramesh;s off stump.He was very good if not exceptional initially in the longer format of the game.In 2001 just before Australia's tour to India,he suffered an injury which made him ineffective in the Ashes series later that year.Instead of giving an old timer like Kasprowicz so many chances, Aus should have persisted with Binga.He would have become an all time great.

  • Samrat on June 25, 2012, 6:13 GMT

    To be able to bowl at this pace at his age is exceptional.Our Indian bowlers need to take a leaf out of his book.It speaks volumes about his longetivity.After 30 every tearaway fast bowler starts learning the virtues of cut and swing,things which he didnt have 2 care for when he was younger.But Binga still bowls as fast as he used to a decade back, which is awesome.When will our Indian bowlers learn?They bowl fast for a season and once they are established in the team,their pace drops to military medium.Take a bow Binga,you rock.

  • david on June 25, 2012, 2:44 GMT

    Well said RandyOz with regard to the one dayers. Lee won't be playing tests anymore Patchmaster. Looking forward to the one dayers, although i wish we could rest Cummins and Pattinson and unleash during the ashes next year. England won't know what is about to him them.

  • Dummy4 on June 24, 2012, 8:09 GMT

    Brett lee is one of the all time best fast bowler. . His run up, his action is the best in the world according to me. A superb and wholehearted cricketer. Superb fast bowler! His record speaks for himself.

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