Australia v India, 11th ODI, VB Series, Perth February 1, 2004

Brett Lee gets his smile back



Happy days are here again
© AFP


On a playing surface that suits their full-throttle style more than most, Australia's batsmen and bowlers came into their own, with Brett Lee hauling himself into the light after a doom-and-gloom summer. It was a marvellous display of hostile fast bowling, reminiscent of Lee in his first season four years ago, when he terrorised India with pace, movement and steepling bounce.

It's not been the greatest of Australian summers for fast bowlers, with batsmen obliterating records at several venues. One-day cricket addicts, who think the game's all about fours and sixes and little else, would have relished the fare, but for those who actually enjoy a contest between bat and ball, it's not been a VB Series to remember.

Lee set about correcting that imbalance first thing in the morning. For much of the season, he had struggled to bowl consistently at full pelt. From the first ball today though, he was clocking close to 150 kmph, and on several occasions, he trespassed on the far side, in lightning-quick territory.

More importantly, he bowled the perfect line and length for the WACA pitch. The occasional bouncer kept the batsmen guessing, but by and large, he wreaked havoc with good length deliveries that moved out late. The piece de resistance was the ball that got Sachin Tendulkar, which arrowed in on an offstump line, and then left him just enough to take the edge.

In addition to picking up three wickets, Lee beat the bat with more than half his deliveries, an astonishing ratio for limited-overs cricket. With Jason Gillespie at the other end being slightly below par, he needed to be at his effervescent best, and by the time he finished up, with the Indian innings at the halfway mark, the damage had been done.

It was fabulous to watch, because a fast bowler in his element gets the crowd buzzing like nothing else. Sadly, with the exception of Yuvraj Singh who played another mature, aggressive innings, there was no Indian batsmen to fight the inferno with some fire of their own.

India had only fleeting moments to celebrate once wickets fell in a heap early on. Yuvraj led the defiance with the bat early on, though it was left to Irfan Pathan, L Balaji and Murali Kartik - who played some glorious strokes in the final overs - to drag the team past 200.

It was nowhere near enough, especially once Adam Gilchrist was put down by VVS Laxman in the opening over. Agarkar flattered to deceive in those opening two overs, picking up Matthew Hayden and Damien Martyn, but thereafter, his line and length were off the radar. Irfan Pathan competed with his usual fervour, but let himself and the team down badly by spraying the ball all over the place when Andrew Symonds had yet to settle.

Symonds and Gilchrist took the game beyond India with some exhilarating hitting. Gilchrist drove, cut and pulled with customary élan, while Symonds appeared intent on belting the leather strips off the ball once he settled. Faced with two batsmen in such belligerent mood, the bowlers were unable to strike up any sort of rhythm. The only exception was Balaji, who refused to let the extra pace and carry in the pitch alter the line and length that has worked so well for him on this tour.

India won't be too disheartened by this defeat, especially because they won't have to encounter a four-pronged Australian pace attack on this type of pitch in the finals. But they'd do well to be wary of Lee, who showed signs of being back to the type of form that made him one of the most exciting players in the game. When his smile's switched on, like it was throughout the spell today, it's time to worry.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.