He’s very special

Brett Lee with Sachin Tendulkar. "He is a legend. It is a pleasure to bowl him," says the Aussie.-AP

Even at 32, Brett Lee is full of exuberance. “I love bowling at 145-150kmph. There is no question of slowing down as some bowlers have done of late in international cricket. Well, I will start thinking of stopping playing the day I am not able to bowl at that speed,” says the Australian fast bowler in a chat with V. V. Subrahmanyam.

For someone who, arguably, is one of the fastest bowlers the game has ever seen, Brett Lee is a remarkably affable character off the field. And by his own admission, the Australian loves to come back to India, again and again.

Even at 32, Lee, who has played in 76 Tests (310 wickets; average 30.81 and S/R 53.3) and 185 one-day internationals (323 wickets; average 22.99 and S/R 29.2), is a picture of youthful exuberance despite the huge workloads he has had to shoulder on the field and on some of the most demanding pitches all these years.

Lee suffered a big blow during the 2008 Boxing Day Test (against South Africa) when he hobbled out with a foot and ankle injury, which necessitated surgery. He also had to face stiff competition from the likes of Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle. But that Lee has managed to regain his place in the Aussie line-up is a tribute to his indefatigable spirit. The fast bowler came back into the Australian team for the one-day series in England which the visitor won 6-1.

“It was really a frustrating phase then. But now I am as fit as ever for any challenge,” said Lee on his visit to Hyderabad as a member of the New South Wales Blues in the Champions League tournament.

Interestingly, the Aussie didn’t find anything wrong with India hosting the seven-match one-day series against Australia immediately after the Champions League (the one-day series began just two days after the Champions League final). He also didn’t think it was too taxing on the players. “In fact, I feel this is a great lead up to the very tough series (against India). I personally would like to play as many matches as possible as bowling on these Indian wickets is itself a huge challenge, and all the experience of playing for NSW in the League should come in handy,” Lee remarked.

Only recently Australia was almost written off as a spent force following the retirements of some of its great players. But the thumping one-day series victory against England, followed by the Champions Trophy triumph in South Africa proved how wrong the critics of Australia were. So, what makes Australia so special?

“In Australia, we believe that a team consists of 12 players. We have inherited a great legacy from the likes of Allan Border, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. It is a typical Australian cricketing culture, we always try to remain as positive as possible,” Lee explained.

And referring to the one-day series against India, Lee said, “The young guys need to raise the bar if they are to really perform well under trying circumstances on Indian wickets.”

Lee is also of the view that Australia will not be the favourite against India. “I don’t think so. The conditions are totally different and the Indians are an unpredictable side, and on their day they can beat any team in the world,” the Aussie pointed out.

“It should be a tough series. We will have to play the best of cricket to be the winners here,” he added.

Referring to the prospect of bowling to Indian openers, Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, Lee was all praise for them. “They are world-class players. Sachin has been playing for 20 years. It’s been as if he has been playing for 50 years. He is a legend. It is a pleasure to bowl to someone like Sachin Tendulkar and Sehwag as well. It is always a challenge to bowl to them,” Lee said.

How long does Lee intend playing?

“Right now I am enjoying the game. I love bowling at 145-150kmph. There is no question of slowing down as some bowlers have done of late in international cricket. Well, I will start thinking of stopping playing the day I am not able to bowl at that speed and in the right areas,” he said.

Does he also believe that Tests and one-dayers are under threat from Twenty20 cricket?

“Cricket is a simple game. I hope the game will remain that way in all the three formats — Tests, one-dayers and T20. Definitely, there is the luck factor in a T20 game while one has to be consistent right through a 50-over game. And for me, Test cricket remains the purest form of the game with a rich history. It is a challenge for any cricketer, it should never be tampered with,” Lee said.

Reflecting on the hectic schedule of matches, Lee confessed that it was very tough on the players, particularly the fast bowlers. “It is no secret that playing non-stop cricket, especially on Indian wickets, is tough. But at the same time, it is very satisfying when you get the breakthroughs,” he said.

The Australian speedster is concerned that the wickets, even back home, are getting slower these days. “I would love to see wickets getting quicker,” he said with a smile.

Whether he is playing for New South Wales in domestic cricket or Kings XI Punjab in the Indian Premier League, or Australia, Lee gives more than 100 per cent. No wonder he is such a special player in contemporary cricket.