"To see stumps flying is an amazing feeling"

It is still early to say whether the Aussies have begun to clamp down on nasty behaviour, but Brett Lee's assertion that it is time to correct the visual impression sledging has on young minds is a significant step.

NANDAKUMAR MARAR

AUSTRALIAN cricketers believe passionately in winning. This obsession with becoming the best in the business extends to everyone in the team, resulting in them collectively raising the performance bar. The downside to the domination is their response to temporary setbacks, which in the heat of competition sometimes degenerates into sledging.

VIVEK BENDRE

It is still early to say whether the Aussies have begun to clamp down on nasty behaviour, but Brett Lee's assertion that it is time to correct the visual impression sledging has on young minds is a significant step. "Stress can have an effect on player's reactions in certain situations, but there is no ill-feeling (among players)," said the 26-year-old pace bowler, one of Cricket Australia's key weapons, who was in Mumbai for a Timex endorsement. "I feel it is important to make kids understand that it is just a game."

The world's fastest bowler knows the importance of making the right impression and cultivating friendships, even when sharpening the cutting edge of his ability to take wickets. By his own admission, Brett called up Sachin Tendulkar at Bangalore hours after flying into India, wishing the batting maestro success in competitions ahead, including a home triangular featuring Australia as the third side.

The 26-year-old also paid a quiet visit to the site of Mumbai's bomb blast outside Gateway of India (close to the hotel where his team stayed on the previous visit) explaining that he wished to pay his respects. For a gung-ho Aussie known for head-hunting with a cricket ball, this was strange. But this may also be the rub-off effect skipper Steve Waugh's charity work has had on the younger generation by making them take a humane look at life beyond cricket.

Like most Aussies, Brett Lee is an engaging, outgoing personality with an interest in music (formed `Six and Out' band in New South Wales and listens to Mozart for relaxation). The World Cup success has made him famous but he is also aware of the onus of shouldering responsibilities in a champion side. He is emphatic about being able to bowl "fast and straight" (160.7 mph being his fastest delivery) and believes in being consistent.

"We always want to win. I know this may sound like a stupid comment, but the Australian team has always played that way. I am confident of us continuing in the same way." -- Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

For Indian batsmen, standing up to the Aussie will be a tough task, at home or away. Brett, named the Timex brand ambassador to coincide with the watch company's Billennium celebrations, displays no arrogance. He only has abundant confidence in support from Aussie mates and also respect for the quality batting line-up in the Indian camp, referring to Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly as world-class strokeplayers and worthy competitors.

Excerpts from an interview:

Question: Aggression is an essential ingredient of the Australian cricket psyche, apart from confidence in taking on and beating every opposition. Sometimes this aggressive intent boils over, resulting in sledging. Do you feel it is okay to sledge and disturb your opponent, as long as the team keeps winning?

Answer: Sledging doesn't always happen the way people see it. You may think players are abusing, but many times we are asking the batsmen some of the most commonplace questions. Like what are you having for dinner? I think players take the game seriously out there, guys are playing for their country. Stress can have an effect on players' reactions in certain situations, but there is no ill feeling (among players at opposite ends of the crease). The message has to be explained to those watching us perform. I feel it is important to make kids understand that it is just a game.

The World Cup final saw an aggressive Australia winning against an Indian side intent on aggression. Do you feel India was too keen, too aggressive on that day from the start? How do the Aussies maintain their aggression when performing on the big stage?

That might be an assumption someone may have come up with, but I don't think the Indians were too aggressive. They were just in the attack mode. We had a bit of a purple patch in the World Cup, we had guys who were not known who stepped up (performed), suddenly struck form, like (Andrew) Symonds and (Andy) Bichel. People were asking when Symonds is going to get runs, he smashed 144 not out. Bichel was not even in the starting 12 but showed that he was a world class all-rounder. He set up the World Cup for us.

The deadliest part about pace bowling is the minimum reaction time available for batsmen to play the ball. Did this aspect of your job excite you to take up bowling fast?

Time is very important for a fast bowler, one of the reasons why I have signed up with Timex. Recent studies have revealed that a batsman gets about 0.001 seconds to play a ball. To have the power to get through a batsman's guard and see stumps fly is an amazing feeling, also the reason behind my decision to become a fast bowler.

How much value does speed have in a bowler's armoury? How much premium do you place on speed at the international level?

Speed is my asset. If a person really wants it, wants to bowl fast he can get there. I want to bowl at 160 kmph. However, speed is not everything and I am trying to bring it down a little and get more consistency. The most important thing is to take wickets for Australia, no matter how fast you bowl.

For every fast bowler setting new speed limits in world cricket, there are batsmen who can counter them. The most difficult batsmen you have bowled against?

Brian Lara, Chris Cairns and Sachin Tendulkar are the three toughest batsmen I have faced. Lara has such great feet, he could have become a good boxer if he wanted to. Cairns of New Zealand was very difficult to bowl to. And Sachin (Tendulkar). He is `this big', holds a bat that is `this thick'. It didn't matter where you bowled to him. I may have bowled a great delivery, then in my follow-through tried to have a look around, only to find it gone high over my head for a six.

You strongly believe in your ability to bowl fast and straight. Bowling fast and straight while remaining free from injury over a long duration is a big challenge. How does your body handle the punishment?

You have to have a big strong heart to be a fast bowler. In every walk of life you have to overcome setbacks. I have had a broken back twice, had an ankle surgery and elbow surgery. It just made me hungrier to win back the baggy green cap.

What has made this Australian team so successful? Where does the team go from here?

We always want to win. I know this may sound like a stupid comment, but the Australian team has always played that way. I am confident of us continuing in the same way. We have won the World Cup, our cricket has a good structure in place, with captains showing the way and team coaches doing a great job. Australia have the ingredients of a great team.