The perils of waywardness
Brett Lee has declared he's ready to bowl line and length like a bachelor confirms his intention to find a wife. But today he must have realised it's going to take more than a public announcement to make it work.
Maturity brings reflection and Lee, who is 29 on Tuesday, should wonder why the thought of blocking an end rather than raining bouncers and boundary opportunities has taken so long. It's been a popular question since his delayed Test return from ankle surgery in England, where he was fast, daring and generous.
Having waited 44 Tests to tinker with his thinking, Lee can't be expected to change overnight, but with each performance the economy rate becomes an escalating concern, especially in a side starting to realise mammoth first-innings totals are no longer on the same inevitable line as retirement and top tax rates. Today his first spell was quick, exciting and useful in delivering West Indies a racing start. His sixth over highlighted the overall problem: a short delivery that was cut; a couple of full drivable offerings including a no-ball; a move around the wicket for another mid-pitch hit; and a searing follow-up bouncer that clattered Devon Smith's helmet.
All of it was gripping, and Lee's comforting of Smith while on the ground was genuine, but his first spell leaked 39, giving West Indies a total of 62 from 12 overs. Smith then spent most of the rest of the afternoon giving Australia the headache with a brave and brash 88. Smith offered a valuable lesson in the benefit of patience as he skipped to his half-century in 69 balls and then utilised a further 106 deliveries as he gave West Indies a rope to hold.
Smith sealed his place in the side only last week with a century in the tour match against Queensland, and while he was shaky at times against pace, he accepted the bruises, managed to avoid the danger of Shane Warne and weaved a valuable sole offering. As the middle order faltered Smith remained firm in a display that proved he was prepared to forgo looking pretty for effectiveness.
Australia's best examples of probing came from Warne, who caused much trouble but claimed only one wicket, and Glenn McGrath. Ricky Ponting called Corey Collymore a "mini-McGrath" on day one but the real thing was better. Chris Gayle was subdued in to playing a slash away from his body before McGrath absorbed some rare cover-driving treatment to force an edge from Ramnaresh Sarwan. He returned with the Gabba's lights on to turn another nick from Marlon Samuels and expose a crucial mistake from Smith.
Collymore had also asked his bowlers for more consistency and McGrath could have been forgiven for firing a similar question at Lee in the early stages. Returning for a second batch of six overs, Lee struggled to hit the same spot until he won an lbw verdict to Brian Lara that was spearing to the legside. From that moment he tied up the captain Shivnarine Chanderpaul with the precision expected from an attack's No. 2 and was rewarded with three maidens. The question again was: "Why did it take so long?"
The celebration of Lara's wicket was extravagant and it capped an eventful day that included probably the biggest six at the ground. Lee's thump off Daren Powell sailed on top of the grandstand roof, which towers to six storeys, and narrowly missed the former Test bowler Carl Rackemann and his family who had just passed through the turnstiles. Rackemann felt the ball fizz past and wondered on radio about the damage such a blow could have done to his young daughter.
Fortunately, Lee had produced another spectacular near-miss but the flashiness and brutality of his game will be difficult to curb. "It's always a tough one," Glenn McGrath said. "You don't want him to lose his natural flair and that's running in and getting batsmen jumping around."
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo