When he burst onto the international scene in the final week of 1999, Brett Lee was hailed as a remarkable find for a nation in search of new heroes. He was raw, he was enthusiastic, and he was quick. Very quick. In his seventh season in the big league, Lee continues to run in with those same three traits and remains a crowd-puller wherever he travels.
While he's admitted that breaking the 160kmph-mark was a definite goal, Lee always said that the sights of flying stumps was what drove him, and was what he was in the Australian side for. Lee spent 18 months on the sidelines of Australia's Test line-up as the management opted for more seasoned pros, but by his own admission, it only increased the hunger to do better in the one-day format. He didn't brood, and understood that the next wicket, the next shot, the next opportunity in the final XI, was the big one.
Speaking to Cricinfo back in May, Lee emphatically stated that we wanted to have an impact on every series. Based on his performance during the DLF Cup in the past week, it's clear that Lee's concentration has gunned up a notch and that the objective is annihilation.
Lee didn't get an opportunity until Australia's third match, but wasted little time in confirming his status as the world's most dangerous limited-overs bowler. He began with a fiery spell of 3 for 46 against West Indies, nabbed a hostile 5 for 38 to shove India on a plane back home, and wrapped up the West Indies again with 4 for 28 in the final on Sunday. Those 12 wickets from three matches, at an average of just nine, including two Man-of-the-Match awards, were more than enough for Lee to pick up the Man-of-the-Series title. Australia opted for a rotational policy going into the DLF Cup, otherwise there might have been one more check to the win column in the points tally, and a handful more wickets for Lee.
Against India, in the do-or-die final league match, Lee was in fine touch, at the start and the end of the innings. Sachin Tendulkar, having scored the bulk of his side's runs in the series, tried to force Lee through the covers but couldn't control his shot and spooned one to point early on. Virender Sehwag was then cleaned up by a quick delivery that nipped in from off stump to rearrange the furniture and expose the batsman's technical weakness. And then there was the dismissal of Mahendra Singh Dhoni just when it seemed like India had overcome the early blows. Ricky Ponting brought Lee back on and watched as his ace bowler forced Dhoni into a shot that will be condemned in discussions of India's greatest choking acts. From here on, Lee snapped up the two last men in and Australia had booked a place against West Indies in the final.
So we move to Sunday, September 24. The West Indies required 214 to clinch the DLF Cup, but Lee's first-ball dismissal of Chris Gayle summed up which side was going to walk away with a trophy and which was going to just walk away. This was a batsman who had tempered his game all series, but a full, fast toe-crusher in the blockhole, aided by some genuine late swing, sent him hobbling off. As he has done many times, Lee then returned to complete the burial rites. Three quick wickets, each of which was celebrated with that boyish grin, wrapped up the West Indian innings and handed Australia another one-day tournament title.
"Speed is a great asset; but it's greater when it's combined with quickness - and there's a big difference," Ty Cobb, the baseball legend, once said. Lee's hunger for all things fast has seen him elevate himself to the top of the one-day game. At 29, he is at an age where fast bowlers tend to mature. He understands his craft, is unrelenting in his quest to bowl flat out, doesn't shy away from the opposition and applies quickness to every aspect of his role out on the field. Going by his splendid return from the DLF Cup, he's one step closer to peaking ahead of another crack at cricket's biggest stage, the World Cup.
Lee has done exceedingly well against his DLF Cup opponents. Against India, he has 29 wickets from 13 matches, and 31 West Indian victims from 13 encounters.
Playing soothsayer ahead of the DLF Cup: "It's just a matter of going out there, enjoying myself and hopefully getting the ball on the right line and length. And if the ball swings around the corner then happy days."
He said again
On his series haul: "I really enjoyed my time here and Malaysia has thrown a fantastic tournament, I've really enjoyed bowling on this wicket. It has been a lot of hard work, coupled with humid conditions but I never thought I'd come back and take 12 wickets in 3 months, I'm really happy with it."
And one more time
When quizzed about the dramatic Gayle dismissal: "Yeah, it was great, felt really good. The plan was to get that ball to swing back in, but I never thought in my wildest dreams that he [Gayle] would be out the first ball. I think it always boosts your confidence, getting someone out on your first ball and it doesn't happen that often in one-day and even in Test cricket matches."
"He's a machine. It's a unique style and it's uncomplicated, and if we can keep it that way it will stand him in good stead. He moves very well and he's very fit. But it's all underpinned by being able to be explosive and roll that arm over quickly." Troy Cooley, Australia's bowling coach, during a net session ahead of the series
"I've said it before too: Brett's the best bowler in one-day cricket, who can bat lower down the order. He is a great asset to the team. Today's performance was justification of that. It's great having a bloke like that running in hard and fast. With Lee getting Gayle on the first ball, it gave us an early edge in the game." Ricky Ponting after the final
Lee is all confidence ahead of the Champions Trophy, but he was looking forward to some down time. "We all are looking forward to returning home and reassembling with friends. My life right now is perfect. I'm really happy where I am cricket-wise and as far as off the field I'm as happy as I've ever been and I'm taking that into my cricket. We came off a very long season and it was no secret I was mentally and physically exhausted. I had to make sure I gave my body enough time off."
Jamie Alter is editorial assistant of Cricinfo