Lee takes up responsibility with glee
Brett Lee now bowls like a man with nothing to prove. The shadows of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne have gone and the only clouds on his mind in Brisbane were the leaky ones above the Gabba. A parent of a toddler, Lee is also the head of Australia's bowling family and is becoming more relaxed about the responsibility with every innings.
Australia's attack included a debutant in Ashley Noffke and Mitchell Johnson, who has played 26 matches, was the only other one backing up from the Test series. Lee was not concerned by his lack of big-name help and against an opponent with similarly fresh faces he showed why he is the big daddy.
This is the point Lee has wanted to reach since making his international debut nine years ago. He gets the new ball, comes back mid-innings to mop up or blast out and returns at the finish to create more damage. There is never any question over his end and when Ricky Ponting wants a wicket it is Lee who takes the ball. Throughout the Tests he was there when Ponting needed him and he has started the CB Series in the same way.
The only thing Lee could not control was the weather, which prevented him from earning the victory his bowling deserved. In between taking 5 for 27 he ran across to support Noffke during his early expensive overs and tapped a batsman in apology after almost running into him. The downscaling of hostilities since Sydney actually suits Lee and does not result in any loss of bowling venom. Without needing to think about what to say to a batsman, he can concentrate more on how to remove them.
There was no generosity shown to the debutant Manoj Tiwary as he was attacked with a series of shorter deliveries. Tiwary did well to avoid a couple of dangerous balls aimed around head height, but he was so sure of getting another that he could not deal with a fuller one and was bowled off his pad. At the end of the over Lee was given a rest, his four-over second spell costing only 11 runs and including two wickets. India had threatened to come back after losing their experienced openers, but when Lee removed Rohit Sharma and Tiwary three wickets had fallen for three runs.
Sachin Tendulkar also miscalculated Lee in the final over of his opening collection, pushing back too far and stepping on his stumps. The new and old were taken care of along with a couple of wickets in the last over of the innings and the upshot was Lee's seventh career five-wicket haul.
|Lee is probably the only Australian who has welcomed the retirements of McGrath and Warne and is thriving in an environment where he is the alpha male|
The rest of Lee's fast-bowling family had a mixed day. Nathan Bracken was expensive after his early breakthrough while Noffke recovered well from giving up 27 runs in his opening four overs. Like Noffke, Johnson was playing on his home ground and he would have had something to cheer two overs earlier if Australia's slips fielders were on message.
Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting both dropped chances off Gautam Gambhir within three balls, but Johnson recovered to trap the batsman in front. He remained a threat and gave up only 33 runs in nine overs, although all the serious danger came from Lee until Ishant Sharma stormed through after another rain break.
Given limited opportunities, Sharma was the only bowler to match Lee's potency in a brief spell where he weaved the ball on a surface freshened by the extra moisture. James Hopes' off stump was lost and Michael Clarke was welcomed with a hit in the chest. Sitting in the dressing room Lee would have been impressed with the discomfort caused for the batsmen.
The conditions were steamy, the ball became slippery and the bowlers had many excuses for things not working. Lee did not need any and excelled despite the heat, the rain interruptions and the new-look India.
To reach this level he needed to look around the field and not see any safety nets. Lee is probably the only Australian who has welcomed the retirements of McGrath and Warne and is thriving in an environment where he is the alpha male. Now when he stands at the top of his run he is no longer confused over his position. This is Lee's team as well as Ponting's.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo