Lethal Lee

THIS World Cup has seen Brett 'Binger' Lee's explosive fast bowling. He knocked down stumps, batsmen, came up with a hat-trick, but most importantly helped Australia win crucial matches, enroute to the final.

G. VISWANATH

THIS World Cup has seen Brett 'Binger' Lee's explosive fast bowling. He knocked down stumps, batsmen, came up with a hat-trick, but most importantly helped Australia win crucial matches, enroute to the final. Backed by some brilliant catching, especially in the slip cordon, he simply revelled. He also rose to the occasion with the bat, smashing some huge sixes when the team needed it most, like in the Super Six encounter against New Zealand. This competition has seen Lee at his lethal best. He owes his development to captain Ricky Ponting. His skipper has encouraged him to bowl in the old fashioned method — fast and straight. Legends, like Frank Tyson, adopted this method during their prime. Lee, who made his Test debut against India in the 1999-2000 home series, lived up to the expectations of the selectors in both forms of cricket. Two years ago while talking about Brett Lee, Steve Waugh said: "The sky is the limit for this paceman." His international career began with a bang. He had a five-wicket haul against India at the MCG. A couple of months after the series against India, he sent down deliveries at a speed in excess of 155 kmph against South Africa.

"It's rarely you get to see or play with a guy who bursts on the scene and grabs all the attention as Shane did when he first emerged on the cricket scene. Just like Shane, Brett Lee is much more than a passing fad. He is a once in a generation player, enormously gifted with class and flair, the ability to ignite the imagination of all, and such an impact player that he will quickly be changing the way kids want to play the game," Waugh wrote in his diary.

Writing about Ray Lindwall, some 50 years ago, essayist A. G. Moyes says, "Australia produces a top-class fast bowler about once every twenty years." Moyes' assertion was based on the appearance of outstanding Australian fast bowlers like Ernest Jones — who played during the time of W. G. Grace — Jack Gregory, Cotter and Tim McDonald. But this statement was proved wrong subsequently. Australia did take some time to produce a fast bowler of the calibre of Jeff Thomson. But now, during the last decade, the country has produced some great pacemen.

Lee, who suffered a stress fracture on the back, was also troubled by elbow and knee injuries. He had to undergo corrective surgeries and hence his form suffered. But Lee's facts and figures — 102 wickets in 27 Tests and 120 wickets in 64 one-day Internationals — show that he is well on his way to take over the mantle from Glenn McGrath in the future.

For all his brilliant spells in the World Cup, the 26-year-old did not have a great start in the 2002-2003 summers. He did not find a place in the Australian team for the first Ashes Test against England. The selectors chose Andy Bichel instead. He picked up only five wickets in the three Tests against Pakistan, at Colombo and Sharjah, and this did not impress the selectors. But Lee made his way back in the squad for the third Test, after some fine performance in the inter-provincial Pura Cup.

His haul of 18-wickets in the VB series against Sri Lanka and England saw him return to top form. In the absence of McGrath, Warne and Gillespie, he shouldered responsibilities very well, and the result — the Man of the Series award. In the World Cup too, Lee made the most of the absence of Shane Warne and Jason Gillespie. He did not have the opportunity to take the new ball against Pakistan in Australia's opening match. But when he opened the attack against India, he picked up the three vital wickets of Ganguly, Sehwag and Dinesh Mongia at the Super Sport Park, Centurion.

Since then Lee's progress in the tournament has been spectacular, though England's Marcus Trescothick and Nick Knight did cut him to size at the St. George's Park. This was the only match that he went wicketless (0 for 58), but thereafter Lee has remained Ponting's chief weapon. He destroyed Sri Lanka in his first spell at Centurion (3 for 52), routed New Zealand (5 for 42) and ripped through the Kenyan top order (3 for 14) at Kingsmead, where he performed a hat-trick. And at Port Elizabeth against Sri Lanka in the semifinal, he took control of the game with three important wickets, including the classic dismissal of Marvan Atapattu.

The Lee show was on track once the Super Sixes began. He was just short of 100 mph, a feat achieved by Pakistan's Shoaib Akhtar in the game against England at Newlands. Four years ago in England, the attention was on Akhtar but in this first World Cup, Lee was the pick of the fast bowlers. Last year he had said that he would "think about breaking the 160 kmph mark (he's done it quite a few times now), but I would rather see stumps fly. That is what I am in the team to do, take wickets." The Marvan Atapattu dismissal is an example of those intentions.

For a fast bowler who was supposed to have a suspect action, Lee has come a long way since the chucking allegations. Bowlers like Vaas, McGrath, Bichel, Bond, Nehra, Srinath and Zaheer have had their moments in the World Cup, but Lee has certainly surpassed them all.