Lee keen to make a 'difference'
Brett Lee and the Kolkata Knight Riders share unhappy common ground. For all the gloss, talent and market power each possess, their most indelible images on the cricket grounds of India have been forged in defeat.
For Lee, the 2008 Test tour, on which he lost the mantle of world's best fast bowler never to regain it, sits alongside more tragically heroic scenes from the 2011 World Cup quarter-final against India, when he dove valiantly around the field while trying to pull Australia into the semis through sheer force of will. Kolkata's three editions of the Indian Premier League without a semi-final berth tell their own story of wasted talent; the owner Shahrukh Khan's grimace, and the encroachment of impatient businesses on a faltering Twenty20 team.
After an initial stint with King's XI Punjab that was mixed in terms of results if not his own personal impressions - "I had three great years", he says - Lee and Kolkata have now been united in what seems a chance for each party to extract the best from each other. Lee's profile is ideal for Kolkata but so too is his work-rate.
"Hopefully we can go out there and make a difference to the way Kolkata have been playing," Lee told ESPNCricinfo before flying to India at the end of Australia's tour of Bangladesh.
"We've got a big tournament ahead, missed a couple of games, but looking forward to getting out there and leading from the front.
"I've heard it's a great club, a great franchise; Shahrukh Khan the owner, he's an amazing actor, like the Brad Pitt of India, so there's a lot of prestigious things there even away from cricket."
Lee's description of Kolkata's owner says all it needs to, about the world of the IPL. This is show business with all the trappings, as distinct from the purer pleasures and insights that can still occasionally be derived from the international game. Searching for words to describe it, Lee settled on "soap opera", and was happy with his choice.
"It's a totally different set-up to what most organisations would be; with Australia it's totally different," Lee said. "The IPL is exactly what people think: it's about Twenty20 cricket, it's about the glitz and glamour and the Bollywood stars; it's about the fireworks, the cheerleaders and the noise.
"They love watching the Indian players throughout India, but now, [since they are] playing for different franchises, they're not booed but they're not cheered as much as they would be under their normal colours. It's like a soap opera, that's what it's like, it's all part of that set-up and that shouldn't change."
As for the infringement of celebrities and after-party orchestrators on the organisation of the team, Lee did not deny a source of tension, but argued it was workable. "If you're talking more so about how much input the stars should have in the side, what I've seen through [was] what's happened in King's XI," he said. "Preity Zinta who was our leader, our owner, along with Ness Wadia; they had their input of course, but at the end of the day we had to go out there and play cricket, under the coaching of Tom Moody back then.
"Kolkata are under the coaching of Dav Whatmore now; hopefully they can take care of the off-field stuff and we'll take care of the on-field stuff, and when the on-field stuff's finished we can enjoy the odd party or two and enjoy what the IPL's all about.
"But that won't happen unless we're going out there and doing the business. I think they definitely realise that and they want us to do the very best we can as cricketers. That's why they're paying us; we're employees and we'll go out and try to do the best job we can."
Lee's best job is a distance from the one he managed in 2008, when the break-up of his marriage and a limited pre-season took him to India under-strength and soon left him desperately out of form. Illness also intervened, and by the end of the tour he was on the slippery slope towards the foot fractures that ended his Test playing days.
"There are times in your playing life when you've been through a rough patch. Ricky [Ponting] has been through that now and hopefully will get through the other side of it. Mine was definitely in 2008, for a number of reasons," Lee said.
"I've also got the knack of deleting it; it's like you push F7 on the computer keyboard and somehow just take it out of your mindset. It's something you do learn from; it does make you a tougher player when you've not played at your best ability and your head [is] probably not in the right space, but that's all part of being a professional cricketer. It's not always about getting through and making sure you're not injured - there are other factors as well.
"It's terrible when you're going through that particular time with your cricket and with other things, but you've always got to find a way to get through it."
Before Lee would leave 2008 behind, he spoke of the fact that he has had plenty of better days on the subcontinent, most importantly the 2009 Champions League with New South Wales when he contributed runs as well as wickets to be player of the tournament. If he can reprise the form of those storming two weeks, Kolkata may just be able to shed their millstone of underachievement.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo