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This past week has brought with it a flood of glowing tributes following Australian quick Brett Lee's decision to retire from international cricket. And rightly so; Lee's career statistics stand him among the greatest of Australia's pace bowlers: 310 Test wickets at an average of 30.81, 380 ODI wickets at 23.36… . The numbers are outstanding by any standards and the fact that he consistently bowled 150 kmh, with the blonde hair and rockstar looks. only added to his on-field persona.
On the field, Lee personified the spirit of cricket. He was a great competitor who gave it his all in the pursuit of excellence and success. He repeatedly bounced back from injuries that threatened to curtail his career. Even after retiring from Test cricket two years ago, he continued to deliver and lead the attack for Australia in ODIs and T20s despite being continually written off with each niggling injury.
Yet, he also managed to balance this desire and focus while clearly enjoying his cricket, respecting his opponents and with it, the game's traditions and values. Who is likely to forget the image of a forlorn and gutted Lee being consoled by Andrew Flintoff after the memorable 2005 Ashes Test in Edgbaston, a match in which Lee piloted the Aussies to within two runs of victory from a seemingly 'unwinnable' position? The resultant image was so powerful in representing the spirit of cricket that it became the key marketing plank of Cricket Australia collaterals for the next Australian summer.
Now that he has retired and career eulogies are being written, how will he be remembered? Cricket Australia's CEO James Sutherland summed it up nicely when he commented: "Brett inspired young Australians to play cricket and bowl fast". Of this, there is no doubt. Having had the privilege of working in junior development in the Australian system, other developing cricket countries, and now in India, its abundantly clear Lee's contribution to cricket is far more reaching than just the boundaries of the country he represented. Not only in Full Member countries but from the villages of Papua New Guinea to the foothills of Mount Fuji in Japan, budding cricketers have all tried to emulate the Australian pace, swing and bounce (along with the trademark mid-air heel click to celebrate a wicket).
While at Cricket Australia, I had the opportunity to work alongside Lee at some school promotional clinics in suburban Melbourne. As you would expect he was affable, down-to-earth and a massive hit with children. Now in his role as the Cricket Education Program Ambassador in India, his footprint can now be seen in schools of Mumbai, Pune, Jaipur, Chennai and others across the country. As an ambassador he is a perfect fit; his philosophies, ideals, ethics, attitudes, and tips provide the perfect role model to assist the next generation of youngsters to achieve their dreams.
I have witnessed his influence in a very real and profound way among Indian children. At a recent summer camp in Chennai an eleven-year-old Lee clone appeared. The youngster had mimicked Lee's action to a 'T' and made it his own. The likeness was exact he was very quickly tagged 'Brett Lee' by his batchmates with other children trying to copy his action. Nine-year-old Dev Alimchandani from Mumbai had an opportunity of a life time during last year's ICC World Cup to spend an hour-long one-on-one at a coaching session. The child's sheer passion and excitement at the session left an indelible impression. Twelve months after the event, young Dev still recites the coaching tips learnt from his encounter and is constantly striving to emulate his hero.
In Pune last year, Lee was involved in a session with local participants. Such was his willingness to get involved and share his time, he left the waiting media in his wake so that he could get on the field and work with the children. The youngster, who managed to bowl Lee out in the impromptu match, was an instant celebrity and was clearly touched and beaming when he got the chance to discuss his achievement with the vanquished Lee.
Lee's on field performances and statistics will stand the test of time and will install him as one of the greats of the modern game. His off-field legacy and his impact on the future generations of Australians, Indians, and others around the world will also ensure his long-term contribution to 'play cricket and bowl fast' will be global in its reach.
Martin Gleeson is a former Coaching Program Manager at Cricket Australia and has coached in the ICC Development Program. He is now the CEO of Cricket India Academy delivering Cricket Australia's Cricket Education Program in India
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