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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
June 23, 2012
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 hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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