Wicket-taker par excellence
Few bowlers in international cricket have been able to survive as many injuries and forge a successful career as Brett Lee has done for well over a decade. Since his debut, Lee stood out for his aggression and pace and was an integral part of Australia's exceptional bowling attack. Even in the last two years, when he was well and truly struggling with his fitness, Lee never allowed his pace to drop. He ended his ODI career as Australia's joint-highest ODI wicket-taker along with Glenn McGrath. Lee played in two World Cups (2003 and 2011) and was the second-highest wicket-taker in the 2003 World Cup which Australia won without losing a single game. While Lee's Test stats are good, it is his performance in ODIs that sets him apart. With 23 hauls of four wickets or more, Lee is joint-third behind Waqar Younis and Muttiah Muralitharan on the list of bowlers with the most four-plus wicket hauls. Although he figured in only 25 Twenty20 internationals, Lee became the only bowler to pick up hat-tricks in ODIs and Twenty-20 internationals.
The stand-out aspect of Lee's ODI career is his strike-rate. While Shane Bond is marginally better, Lee has maintained a stunning strike-rate of 29.4 over a much higher number of matches (221). In 2012, Lee was plagued by injuries and his form dropped considerably. While his average and strike-rate went up to 30.60 and 33.4, his economy-rate also rose to 5.48. In matches before the start of 2012, Lee's strike-rate was the best among bowlers with 100-plus wickets (29.1). In 201 innings (till the start of 2012), Lee picked up four or more wickets 23 times. His rate of innings per four-plus wicket haul (8.73) is the best among bowlers with 15-plus four-fors in ODIs.
Throughout his career, Lee played in an Australian team that won nearly every major tournament. Remarkably, 297 of Lee's 380 wickets came in wins. The percentage of wickets in wins for Lee (78.15) is second only to McGrath, who picked up 301 of his 381 wickets in wins (79%). McGrath's relatively injury-free career meant that he played in all matches of the three World Cups that Australia won between 1999 and 2007. Lee, however, was able to play in only one tournament (2003) and missed out on the 2007 edition. The table of bowlers with highest percentage of wickets in wins is, not surprisingly, dominated by Australian and South African bowlers. Lee is followed by Shaun Pollock and Shane Warne, who picked up 73.79% and 73.03% of their wickets in ODI wins.
|Bowler||Total wickets||Wickets in wins||% wickets in wins|
In Tests, Lee started with a five-for on debut against India in the Boxing Day Test in 1999. However, in ODIs, the start was not quite as emphatic. He went wicketless in his first game against Pakistan in Brisbane in 2000 which Australia lost by 45 runs. This turned out to be one of the few losses that Lee had to encounter in a career filled with triumphs. In his first four years (2000-2003), Lee picked up 137 wickets at a superb average (21.43) and strike-rate (27.4). His rate of four-fors (8.11) in this phase was also the best among the three stages of his career. Perhaps his finest moment as an ODI bowler came during the 2003 World Cup when he picked up 22 wickets including a five-wicket haul against New Zealand. Between 2004 and 2007, Lee confronted numerous injuries and as a result, his stats were inferior compared to the first phase of his career (2000-2003). After missing the successful 2007 World Cup campaign, Lee came back in spectacular fashion in Tests and ODIs in 2008 and picked up his 300th ODI wicket on the tour of the West Indies. He was Australia's best bowler in the 2011 World Cup where they crashed out in the quarter-finals to India. His performance in the third phase of his career, however, was well below the level he had scaled in the first few years.
In home ODIs, Lee picked up 169 wickets in 95 matches at an average and economy-rate very similar to those across his career. Only Muralitharan picked up more ODI wickets in home games (193). Among the top-seven wicket-takers, Lee's economy-rate (4.69) in home ODIs is the highest. In away games too, Lee was quite potent picking up 132 wickets at 26.41. His economy-rate of 4.94, however, is once again the highest in the group of top wicket-takers. Lee played the fewest neutral matches among all the bowlers in the list (40) and picked up 79 wickets. However, his performance in these games was superb. Lee's average of 18.29 in neutral games is comfortably ahead of McGrath's (20.22) and Muralitharan's (20.80).
|Bowler||Home (M/W)||Home (avg/econ)||Away (M/W)||Away (avg/econ)||Neutral (M/W)||Neutral (avg/econ)||Overall (M/W)||Overall (avg/econ)|
Lee's stats in ODIs were pretty consistent regardless of whether Australia batted or bowled first. His strike-rate and average when bowling second are slightly better than the corresponding numbers when bowling first. He has been brilliant in wins with 297 wickets at an average of 20.54 and strike-rate of 26.7. In a career that witnessed just 53 losses, Lee picked up 63 wickets at an average close to 40 in the defeats. He also rose to the occasion in the big game: in tournament finals, Lee picked up 50 wickets at an average of 20.38 and a strike-rate of 28. His performance was no less impressive in global tournaments. In 32 matches (World Cup/Champions Trophy), Lee picked up 57 wickets at an average of 21.40 and strike-rate of 27.4. Among the seven bowlers who have 50-plus wickets in global tournaments, Lee's strike-rate is the best.
|World Cup/Champions Trophy||32||57||21.40||27.4||4.68||2/1|
Lee picked up over 50 wickets against England, India and New Zealand. He remains the highest wicket-taker against England (65 wickets) and also boasts the best average among bowlers with 50-plus wickets against India. Lee's tally of five-fors against India (4) is second only to Waqar Younis' corresponding tally against New Zealand (5). Against New Zealand, Lee has 52 wickets at a superb average (20.98) and strike-rate (26.3). His only five-for against New Zealand came in the 2003 World Cup when he helped Australia defend a modest total of 208. Perhaps Lee's poorest record is against Sri Lanka. In 29 matches against them, he has picked up just 38 wickets at an unusually high average and strike-rate (32.60 and 38.3).
Not only did Lee pick up wickets regularly, he also managed to stay fairly economical. Sri Lanka and South Africa were the only Test-playing teams (excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) against whom Lee had an economy-rate exceeding five runs per over.
Lee shared the new ball through the majority of his career and was superb against top-order batsmen. He picked up 326 of his 380 wickets in matches when he opened the bowling. He dismissed Sachin Tendulkar nine times in 30 matches (a record he shares with Pollock and Chaminda Vaas). Lee also troubled many left-handers including Chris Gayle and Stephen Fleming, whom he dismissed seven times each. Since 2003, he dismissed Tendulkar and Gayle most often (seven times) followed by Fleming and Andrew Strauss (six dismissals). Among top-order batsmen, only Gayle scored at a rate greater than five per over against Lee. Rahul Dravid, on the other hand, was dismissed five times in 12 innings while managing to score at only 2.76 runs per over. In the same period (2003 onwards), Lee did better against left-handers. While he picked up 101 wickets at an average of 19.67 and economy-rate of 4.07 against left-handers, his 187 wickets against right-handers came at an average of 21.54 and an economy-rate of 4.34.
Madhusudhan Ramakrishnan is a sub-editor (stats) at ESPNcricinfo