May 4, 2002

The myth of Lee's 100 mph delivery

Eddie Smith

Having looked after the "bowling speeds" list on CricInfo for the past couple of years, I must say that the events of the last few weeks have been rather bewildering. We have seen Shoaib Akhtar unveil his new found genuine extra yard of pace in Pakistan, we've seen the 100 mph mark broken on a single horizontal velocity radar device, and the most puzzling and quite humorous "revelation" of all, was the fact that Brett Lee had registered 161.8 kph on the IDS Sports radar guns in Australia in the 2000/1 season.

Over the past 16 months or so I must have received 60 emails regarding that particular ball. In hindsight the correct thing to do would have been to add a little note to the bowling speeds list to let the public why that measurement was not listed. I did not do that. Instead, I chose to answer each and every one of those e-mails with a standard reply which I will now pass on.

The ball in question was recorded by the IDS Sports company After many years in the field they have the business of recording bowling speeds down to a fine art and very few erroneous speeds actually get to the T.V monitors. The 161.8 kph from Lee to Walsh in Brisbane was one such ball. however.

Three IDS radar instruments are trained at the ball, and are triggered just prior to the time of a ball's release by the bowler. The three radar guns in question usually display the same result, give or take a kph or so. A slight difference occurs when one radar actually records the ball at the exact point of release and thus will record a slightly higher reading than the other two which capture it a split second later. The speed at the point of release is what is displayed on the T.V monitors and at the ground.

If, say, the one particular gun records a speed of 160 kph and the other two record 142kph and 141kph, then it is assumed that the 160 kph speed is incorrect. A certain message will then usually appear on the gun in question to inform the gun's handler that a microwave emitting device has interfered with the frequency of that particular gun and the highest speed recorded is dismissed as a error.

In the case of the ball in question, this is exactly what took place, except for the fact that this particular ball escaped the net so to speak. The speed of 161.8 kph did appear on the public's television screens and many people may have seen it. What makes this particular situation a little humorous and more than a little disturbing is the fact that 16 months after the event, the ball is making headlines all around the world.

I use the word humorous because that very day and later in the telecast, the ball in question was referred to by Richie Benaud. Now I personally didn't bother to keep the tape for reference, but in general terms Mr Benaud said that the ball from Brett Lee to conclude the West Indian innings showed up as above 160kph, but the actual ball speed was 142kph as recorded by the back up radars. Obviously the anonymous person who managed to help this video into the hands of Brett Lee's manager must have missed the afternoon's telecast, or simply chose to ignore those words by one of cricket's very best and experienced commentators.This matter was resolved a mere hour or so after the event, but 16 months later it raises its head in what must at least be deemed as highly unusual circumstances.

Just for the record. Brett Lee's fastest ball of the 2000/1 season in Australia was recorded at 150 kph in the Perth test. Following ankle injuries, Brett Lee's speed had not yet returned to that of the 1999/00 season in which he was consistently around and beyond the 150kph mark. From memory, the bowling spell in question was constantly around the 144kph mark and definitely no single ball of that spell exceeded 150kph. Brett Lee's fastest recorded delivery is 157.4 kph and he has not broken the 100mph mark, as yet.