March 26, 2008

Service with a smile

Not the least of Brett Lee's achievements this summer has been how he has managed to keep his temper and dignity while all about him were losing theirs

Brett Lee has raised his game and his standing in the eyes of fans and opponents alike © Getty Images

Brett Lee deserved every plaudit that came his way in 2007-08. Everyone held him in high regard. From the first ball to the last, he was outstanding. After a long campaign he was still able to muster the enthusiasm needed to perform valiantly for his state in the five-day domestic final. He has never given less than his best.

Besides taking significant wickets on the opening day, Lee also contributed tellingly to New South Wales' second innings, scoring 97, thereby ending any lingering hopes the Victorians may have held of causing an upset. Throughout the various campaigns of a confrontational summer, Lee was superb. He shone with bat and ball, and sometimes even in the field, where he suffered fewer of the lapses that had made his work therein so interesting earlier in his career. Indeed, Lee's ability to focus on matters in hand, to concentrate on every ball and to approach every day and every match with intent told the tale about his cricket. Not so very long ago he'd make a hash of an easy stop between brilliant interceptions, or serve up tripe between threatening deliveries. Suddenly he emerged as a man to depend upon.

Lee went further. Through an acrimonious series with India he remained popular with both parties and all spectators. Heavens above, even Harbhajan Singh liked him. It was not that he was above the fray. To the contrary, he was constantly in the thick of the action and exposed to the same turbulences as everyone else. And yet he retained his respect for the game and his opponents. Accordingly he was able to send down a beamer to Sachin Tendulkar in a one-day final without causing any of the anger that followed previously deliveries of the same ilk. Lee apologised straight away. Such was his reputation that Tendulkar and all India accepted his word that it had been a mishap. A potential nasty episode was forgotten.

It takes an extraordinary performer to gain that much traction in the middle of such unpleasantness. Throughout the series and into the ODIs, Lee played without resentment. He smiled more often than a child presented with a chocolate cake, and he meant it. Supporters and opponents sensed his sincerity. Not that he is a soft touch. Just that he did not lower himself, and tried to think well of his fellow men.

Of course, Lee also knows where his naan is buttered. Certainly he has substantial commercial interests in India, where his dashing looks and generous disposition cause many hearts to flutter. But Lee was not playing to the gallery. He came across as a fierce competitor and as a genuine man. He chose his own mood, played by his own lights, refused to join the prevailing pack mentality that showed his colleagues - and especially his leaders - in such a poor light. Indeed, a case can be made for taking a closer look at his leadership credentials.

Not the least of Lee's achievements in 2007-08 was to scatter to the winds the craven notion that in modern sport, a player must growl and curse and scowl and provoke and insult, or else he is letting the side down. Even in these days of intense and often partisan competition and coverage it is still possible for a man of open disposition to rise above it. Lee reminded all and sundry that sport is sport, and that the word "player" carries weight.

An essentially good humoured man, he had long been liked by comrades but not till now has he commanded such widespread affection and admiration. But then, not until these last few months has he been been able to release his entire, uncensored, mature self. In a notably impressionable youth, he allowed himself to be used as a bone cracker at some cost to his work and reputation. Eventually he realised that he was more effective when using brain and not brawn.

Besides his evident sense of sportsmanship, Lee is also popular because he has endured all manner of ups and downs and never once whined. On India's previous tour he had become so confused about his action that he was reduced to sending down harmless deliveries from a yard behind the popping crease. Another man might have been broken by the experience. After all it is not the collapse that matters, but the nagging feeling that it might happen again. Lee refused to let it bring him down.

Apart from the retaining of his manners, Lee's triumph in the southern summer of 2007-08 was due to his consistency and cleverness. In the past it was barely conceivable that such words might be attached to him. Two of his wickets illustrate his improvement. Called upon to break a partnership on a docile pitch in Hobart, he removed a lingering opening batsman. Now Mahela Jayawardene walked to the crease. Already this accomplished batsman had scored a hundred in the first innings and his wicket was prized. Jayawardene took guard and surveyed the scene. Doubtless he had been following proceedings on television.

Hitherto Lee had not bowled a single ball from wide of the crease in the series. Not one. Nor had he given any indication that he thought the ball might reverse swing. As he stood at the top of his mark he decided the time had come to go for broke. He surged to the crease, veered a little wider and sent down a searing yorker that started well outside off stump and began to bend back so late that the batsman ignored it. Not until the ball was almost upon him did Jayawardene sense danger. But it was too late. His timbers were sent flying.

Not the least of Lee's achievements in 2007-08 was to scatter to the winds the craven notion that in modern sport a player must growl and curse and scowl and provoke and insult, or else he is letting the side down

It was the delivery of the summer. It was a thoughtful and disciplined bit of bowling. Here was confirmation that Lee had learned a lot from Troy Cooley, the bowling coach England so foolishly allowed to slip through their hands after the Ashes had been regained in 2005.

Further confirmation came from Lee's second masterpiece of the summer. Once again his saved his sharpest work for the opposition's greatest batsmen. Sachin Tendulkar was looking his old self in Perth and appeared on the verge of producing a decisive innings. Lee had pounded away but the pitch was unhelpful and the ball soft. Not since the Jayawardene delivery had Lee moved wide of the crease. Instead he had relied on changes of pace and outswingers. Now he used the width of the crease for a second time. Tendulkar saw him and decided to use the angle to guide the ball through the leg side. But Lee had summoned an extra yard of pace. Tendulkar was beaten. He had misread the ball. Lee celebrated but without contrivance. Nothing is more satisfying to a bowler than the springing of a trap. Few had thought him capable of such subtleties.

Inconceivable 12 months before, these dismissals demonstrated the sustained excellence of his work. Nor were they alone. He mixed up his deliveries cleverly without losing his control and added to his repertoire a well disguised slower ball that seemed to hang in the air. Altogether he took 40 wickets in six Test matches at an average of 21. Whenever Australia were in trouble, the ball was thrown to him. His unstinting efforts held the attack together and he was the inevitable choice as cricketer of the summer. It was a magnificent achievement. And it was all done without any hint of rancour.

Peter Roebuck is a former captain of Somerset and the author, most recently, of In It to Win It

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sagnik on March 31, 2008, 7:05 GMT

    He is the best bowler. I have huge respect for him and I agree thing in this article mentioned about him. Every bowler should learn from him and I think he should be given captaincy, he should at least try it because he knows his game and has enough experience to lead the Aus side. Also playing in the IPL, he will get new exoreince which will benefit him. A great man to respect. Like mentioned above "Respect is not automatic, it has to be earned" He will have a blast in India and the crowads will love him. All the best to Brett Lee.

  • S. on March 30, 2008, 13:03 GMT

    Brett Lee has come a long way from being erratic to being an outstanding fast bowler. His wickets used to come at a high cost earlier. Watching him bowl is almost as interesting to me as it was to see the peerless Malcolm Marshall bowl. He is intrinsically joyful person and expressive post delivery without rancour and it takes someone of the calibre of Peter Roeback to bring it to the attention of cricket lovers, who can see through beyond borders. I wish he has more such productive years before he calls it quits.

  • Laks on March 28, 2008, 19:31 GMT

    I had the good fortune of meeting Brett in LA when he came with the Australia 'A' squad to play India 'A' back in September of 1999. Every evening after the game the Aussie squad would stay back and unwind.

    Brett had his guitar and would strum on it while he and his bother Shane would sing. Brett always had a smile on his face and was pleasant to everyone around him. It is heartening to see success hasn't changed him one bit.

    Thank you Mr. Roebuck for highlighting the fact that there are still some guys that are not only competitive but are able to manage that balance and be nice both on and off the field.

  • madhu on March 28, 2008, 13:54 GMT

    When Adam Gilchrist retired, I thought "here goes one third of the gentleman Australian cricketers". Now we have only Brett Lee and Stuart Clarke.

  • Peter on March 28, 2008, 5:41 GMT

    Australians rarely seem to even consider having bowlers as captains, which is kind of daft come to think of it. Because bowlers should in theory would be more effective as captains, as tactically a captain's main job is setting the field. A couple more New South Welshmen may be forcing their way into the oz team soon, notably Simon Katich (who was cruelly dropped from the test side a while back) and left arm wristy Beau Casson. Actually I think NSW should be a separate member of the ICC!

  • Jonathon on March 28, 2008, 2:50 GMT

    ok what has ricky done to be called arrgonant in recent please tell me that serously the only thing the guy has done is report singh which is because he trusted his team mates he was once a bad boy if you will but what has he done lately. yes brett is a good sportmen and very good for our country serously though get off ricky's he has done nothing since 2005 to be called arrgonant a scoundrel or anything like that shut up!!!!

    also i remember very clearly habjahn hand and having a chat to the guy

  • Manjunath on March 27, 2008, 21:34 GMT

    Well written - Peter. Certainly Lee has shaped to be a nice player. He is an attacking pacemen and is getting to be very clever in varying his pace these days. That is getting him rich rewards. Durinmg the 2nd CB final when he squared up Yuvraj Singh with high kicking delivery, Lee rised his Eyebrows as if to ask "How about that?" It was a subtle teaser. Not a challenge or Intimidation, but a curious riddly stare. It was a fantastic gesture of sportsmanship on part of Lee. Subtle aggression but aptly executed. I am sure many watching it on the TV would have felt the same way. Let us all hope he continues to be a nice fellow in these turbulent times.

  • Arijit_in_TO on March 27, 2008, 16:50 GMT

    Some years back, Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar were in competition for the title of "World's Fastest Bowler". Brett has developed into an Aussie great by filling the very big shoes of McGrath while Shoaib has taken to beating Mohammad Asif with his cricket bat. If you had your choice of BLee or Akhtar, who would you pick now? Brett Lee has to be at least considered if not picked for any World XI right now in my opinion.

  • Cricinfouser on March 27, 2008, 15:53 GMT

    totally agree , Brett Lee is a role model. His fan following in India is now in millions .. wait till he lands there for IPL , the crowds will go all out to cheer him.

  • venkat on March 27, 2008, 12:27 GMT

    Let's see if get this right,if lee bowls a beamer to tendulkar it was unintentional and his apology is revered as a great sportsmanship and when sreeshant does the same to a english batsmen he is called arrogant and people were calling for his banishment from the game. I have no problem with lee, i think he is genuine but sreesanth should have got the same amount of respect when he apologized. When Glen mcgrath spits directly to the side of the batsmen, steve waugh chastised brian lara for taking it to the match refree but the same australians had no problem when they called the teacher on Harbhajan even when symonds was not sure what he heard. When harbhajan could have said maakee or actually the dirty word. There was definitely a reason to give the benefit of doubt to harbhajan in this case but they wanted mcgrath spitting incident to let slide eventhough he was clearly caught by camera spitting. Judge players by action not by your myopic perceptions

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