For about half of his career, Brett Lee was possibly a rung short of being a true cricketing great. That’s not to denigrate a guy who had a lengthy Australian career in all forms of the game. It’s just how it is.

He came, he sawed, he conquered. Image: Gerard O'Connor for Alpha Magazine

Unlike the greatest two bowlers of his generation Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, Lee was a player of peaks and troughs. When he was good, you didn’t want to be a batsman, or for that matter his own wicket keeper. But when he was ordinary, you didn’t want to be a picket in the boundary fence.

The moment Lee arrived on the scene for NSW in the mid ’90s, it was clear he was one out of the box marked “Express”. In his debut in the 1999 Boxing Day Test at the MCG, he took a wicket in his first over and 5/47 in his first innings. Shane Who? Glenn Who?

It took just 11 matches for Lee to bag his first 50 Test wickets. As a comparison, Warne took 31 wickets in his first 11 Tests, while McGrath snared 34. Like one of his thunderbolts on the pitch, Lee struck hard and fast in Test cricket. But then he seemed to level off.

Statistics don’t reveal the full picture in any sport. They don’t tell of aura, and intimidation, and of the small things players bring to a team’s spirit which only his team-mates understand. In this respect, Lee was a hugely valued man around the dressing room, both in his early raw days and in his wily older days.

Crowds loved Lee for his exuberant mid-pitch wicket celebrations. Most famous was the chainsaw, immortalised in an early cover shoot for Alpha magazine.

Stihl got it… And this is how it looked on the pitch

For all his value as a persona in the team, some of Lee’s stats are mildly disappointing. McGrath’s bowling average was just 21, which means he leaked 21 runs for each wicket. Lee’s average was 30. The generally-accepted benchmark for “greatness” is mid-20s and below.

Of course, express pace bowling has long been a recipe for profligacy. The faster you send ‘em down, the faster the batsmen can dispatch ‘em.

That’s what makes Brett Lee’s One Day and T20 stats so impressive. He was never economical in either form of the game. But oh, did he have the happy knack of taking wickets. Here’s one for your next pub trivia night. Guess who holds the record of 380 One Day scalps alongside Glenn McGrath?

In Australia’s unbeaten 2003 World Cup campaign, Lee was brilliant hunting in tandem with the likes of miserly Glenn McGrath and the in-form Andy Bichel. You’d have the guile men at one end, and those late inswinging Lee yorkers making woodchips out of stumps at the other. A true batsman’s nightmare.

And then, there were those days on dead pitches. I remember being at the SCG in early 2004 when Lee took match figures of 4-276. India racked up a tally of 9-916 in its two innings. Lee looked about as menacing as the seagulls.

Of course, every cricketer has his lean patches, and to reach straight into the sporting cliché bag, what counts is how you bounce back. Lee did this with style, and if he didn’t do it in one or two definitive outings, then he bounced back with his longevity.

For a guy who suffered stress fractures, and who bowled the second fastest ball ever recorded (161.3 km/h, a fraction slower than Pakistan’s Shoaib Akhtar), it’s remarkable Lee was still competing in Australian colours in England last week aged 35.

He also recently won an IPL title in India, and was in selectors’ plans for the T20 World Cup in September before succumbing to a minor calf strain last week. Truly, Brett Lee stood the test of time on field.

Off the field, he has always conducted himself just as impressively. Lee has never been a player who’s name has bobbed up at the wrong end of the newspaper. An exception was the break-up of his marriage in 2008, an affair beyond his control which he handled with enormous dignity.

Steve Waugh once called Lee a once-in-a-lifetime talent, or words to that effect, and Lee probably fell just short of that. But if you throw together his attitude, his 300 wickets in both major forms of the game, his longevity and his sheer public recognisability in a golden era of Australian cricket, you have to call him a giant of the game, regardless of whether or not you call him a “great”.

Lee is a thoughtful guy who’d rather watch 60 Minutes than some TV talent show, and who has a big black grand piano in his house. He is a keen musician. Perhaps that’s helped with his sense of timing.

Lee’s retirement announcement today is certainly well-timed. He goes out while still mighty close to the top. Ricky Ponting might take the hint, before he too slips off the perch marked “great” to the one marked “great in his heyday but with consistent lean patches”.

Twitter: @antsharwood

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41 comments

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    • NigelC says:

      01:13pm | 13/07/12

      I had the pleasure of being at the MCG when he made his debut for Australia and I will always treasure that experience. A wonderful cricketer for Australia and an inspiration for aspiring cricketers the world over.

    • simon says:

      02:56pm | 13/07/12

      I remember him taking that first wicket, and the bloke behind me went absolutely spastic and spat hot chips on the back of my neck. It was Shane Lee.

    • Tubesteak says:

      01:26pm | 13/07/12

      The main problem with Lee was that he seemed to be injured every week due to a fractured fingernail or something.

      Bruce Reid put himself back together with sticky-tape after he snapped in half. Lee should have done the same and got on with bowling.

    • SM says:

      02:11pm | 13/07/12

      You’ve got it backwards Tubesteak, it was Reid who was the injury prone one.

      Lee 76 tests and 216 one dayers, Reid 27 and 61

    • Tubesteak says:

      03:24pm | 13/07/12

      SM
      Lee seemed to be out for injury in nearly every season. Where was he for the last Ashes series…? injured

      You also missed The 12th Man reference.

    • GB says:

      01:31pm | 13/07/12

      I find it hard to say a bad word about Bing. You summed him up pretty well Ant. On a bad day his worst was utter garbage but when he had it all clicking, he was fearsome. A rung below the greatest but he never left anything on the field which is all you can ask. Well done on a good career.

    • Mahhrat says:

      01:40pm | 13/07/12

      Vale Binger.  I liked how he changed his action a tad to provide that longevity.  It was funny, I always thought the short forms of the game would be his weakness, you can get after him, but then he dominates T20. 

      Hope to watch him in the Big Bash this summer.

    • sunny says:

      01:47pm | 13/07/12

      We need another Brett Lee to come through the cricket ranks, and another Lleyton Hewitt to come through the tennis ranks. They always brought a can of aggro to their matches, without being unsportsmanlike. Great aggressive competitors = great entertainment.

    • Alnis Bajars says:

      05:09pm | 13/07/12

      Half agree, Hewitt’s racist sleight against an umpire, not even having the balls to call it like like it was.  Not my idea of sportsmanlike.

    • sunny says:

      06:36pm | 13/07/12

      @Alnis Bajars - It’s hard to defend that statement Lleyton made against that linesman in 2001, but I will say he was young at the time (it was 11 years ago) and he obviously lashed out when he called it how he believed it was and was told it was not so - he was obviously using his balls not his head to react to the call. I don’t know the bloke but one heat of the moment incident does not make him a racist, and the rest of his career shows that he is not.

    • Gregg says:

      01:49pm | 13/07/12

      Yep, good article Ant and the style of Cricketer that Australia is always in need of, his value only being reduced by injury outs and no doubt affected his confidence, ability and performances that were not up to scratch.

      Does Bollywood await for him?

    • Nick says:

      02:02pm | 13/07/12

      You forgot to mention the Indian film clip he was in, youtube it!

    • Adam says:

      02:30pm | 13/07/12

      I am LOLing hard at this article

    • Little Joe says:

      02:50pm | 13/07/12

      Yes ..... Brett Lee was great in his day ...... unfortunately he retired one year too late and well below his best.

      In the recent Tour of West Indies, where Australia only just managed to compete with a lowly ranked team, Lee’s bowling figures were substandard for the first 4-ODI’s with figures of 5 for 186 off. A 3-wicket haul in the last game gave him some honour and he finished with 8 for 228 off 43.4overs.

      But when Australia came up against a talented cricket team from England, Lee and all other Australians really struggled. He took only one wicket in the first 2-ODI’s and finished the tour with the figures of 1/137. Unfortunately all Australian bowlers struggled collecting only 13-wickets in the 4-games that were played ..... half as many as the English bowlers.

      Ironically, Lee finished the tour with the highest batting average. I don’t know if I should commend this or just say that it is more evidence of how pathetic the current Australian batting line up is when Mr. Cricket is omitted!!!

      For me Lee is just more evidence of the selecters have for chosing the wrong players at the wrong time, and the bias that they have for NSW Cricketers (eg. Hughes)

    • Caedrel says:

      04:31pm | 13/07/12

      I guess that’s because NSW produces the best cricketers - you only have to look at how many players have left our state side to play consistent minutes elsewhere.

      Bias is sticking with Mitchell Johnson when he really REALLY needs to go back to domestic cricket and do something there to provde he can consistently play at international level. But he’s from WA and moved to Qld, so I guess that doesn’t count.

    • Little Joe says:

      04:44pm | 13/07/12

      Caedrel,

      I concur totally ..... as I said choosing the wrong players at the wrong time, the bias is when Johnson played poorly, he was dropped!!!

    • Little Joe says:

      04:47pm | 13/07/12

      Oh yeah ..... I think that they could have chosen any number of players from states other than NSW, the worst that they would have done was 4-0.

    • pa_kelvin says:

      05:34pm | 13/07/12

      Add Ponting to the bias list for the complete set.

    • Little Joe says:

      08:55pm | 13/07/12

      @ pa_kelvin

      Yeah ..... but do you want to know something really interesting.

      When Clarke became Captain of the Australian Cricket Team for the 5th Ashes Test his batting average for the previous 8-Test Matches was 21.5runs ..... Pontings batting average for the same period was around 28 runs.

      So why was Clarke made Captain??

      In two tests in 2011, Clarke had the opportunity to lead the team to victory ..... 2nd Test vs Sth Africa and 2nd Test vs NZ ..... Clarke scored 2 and 0 respectively. Ponting scored 62 and 16. So why was he made Captain??

      Ponting’s and Clarke’s Average from the Pakistan Tour up to the end of the 1st Test against India was literally the same at 30 runs. Yet all you heard about was how bad Ponting was batting.

      Both finished the Indian Test Series with averages over 100.

      Both were back to usual form in the West Indies.

      Trivia : Name the three Australian Cricket Players who topped the Teams Batting Averages in the 2012 Frank Worrell Trophy??

    • pa_kelvin says:

      10:07pm | 13/07/12

      @LittleJoe…..Lyon 62,Harris 42.5,Wade 39.6….......Ponting 11 your’e point being???

    • pa_kelvin says:

      10:09pm | 13/07/12

      SORRY ..should be ‘your’

    • pa_kelvin says:

      10:31pm | 13/07/12

      @LittleJoe…..........as a footnote most of the bowlers had better batting stats than the ‘batters’ 1-2 meant to take take the ‘shine’ off the ball 3-6 meant to make the the runs….....happy to debate anytime,Last ODI in England a good example.

    • Master says:

      03:04pm | 13/07/12

      Ah the good old Australian spirit of if you’re good at sport you’re a great bloke. Nice to know that having a piano in your house furthers this image too…. Sure pay tribute to a great career, but seeing a guy on channel nine each summer bowl a ball down a pitch doesn’t really give a concrete picture of someone’s true character. Just another Erick Lindgren situation.

    • Tropical says:

      03:07pm | 13/07/12

      Your comment:Sad to see Lee go after what has been a great career.
      Enjoy your retirement Brett.
      But the day does get better because Marr at the SMH is goooorne.

    • Jeff says:

      03:19pm | 13/07/12

      I remember watching him bowl against the Kiwis at Eden Park in Auckland for a Chappell-Hadlee match in 2005. I had never seen professional batsmen cower and fear as much as they did in that game. Lee took 3 for 5 off 6 overs. I think it was James Marshall he didn’t even see the ball and ducked out of the way to be trapped LBW. Sheer brutality. Thanks for some memorable cricket, Brett!

    • andrew says:

      03:35pm | 13/07/12

      As well as his fiery bowling he could usually be relied on for some handy runs too, and a great boundary rider as well. Will be missed by the australian team and spectators alike.

    • Macca says:

      05:31pm | 13/07/12

      His throwing arm from the boundary is unmatched. He could hit the bails from 80m on the full.

    • bullwinkle says:

      03:41pm | 13/07/12

      Yes, he does seem like a good bloke and was fearsome at his best, but someone should have shown him how to click his heels together properly!

    • Muggles says:

      04:06pm | 13/07/12

      Not a fan.

      He didn’t invent sledging—not by a long shot—but he certainly carried on a long tradition of unsporting behaviour at times, particularly in his aggressive posturing towards batsmen. And his airy disregard for the umpire’s decision on many occasions.

      (Yes, yes, I am an old fuddy-duddy who believes your opponent should be treated with respect. That it really is about how you play the game.)

      Also? Sick to death of WeatBix commercials. Or Nutrigrain. Or whatever the hell he and the team are selling right now.

    • Shane says:

      08:21am | 14/07/12

      A bit of intimidation isn’t being disrespectful.  It’s part of the game.  Times have changed since English gentlemen took turns at taking the ovation.

    • Justin of Earlwood says:

      04:28pm | 13/07/12

      The biggest problem was that when he started leaking runs, his captains didn’t try to stem the flow & let the pressure build again before going back to an attacking field. They just wanted him to run in & send it down quick & intimidate.

      It cost him a lot in the stats department, & probably contributed to his lack of accuracy as he was forever feeling the need to adjust line &/or length. The bloke was inside-edged to the boundary that many times it was ridiculous. A constant fine-leg could have shaved his average by 5 & could have allowed him to be a more accurate bowler.

    • Smoker says:

      04:32pm | 13/07/12

      where are the safety glasses and gloves and what if he loses a leg?

    • Waz says:

      06:02pm | 13/07/12

      I went to school with Brett and his brothers. What a wonderful, down to earth bloke he was. It’s been great seeing his cricketing career go as well as it has. He has always been a great sportsman, he will be missed.

    • Haydz says:

      06:30pm | 13/07/12

      a great career. I remember seeing him in his early days and talking to friends about whether or not flat out fast was all that effective - and lets face it, with McGrath at the other end of the pitch bolwing in tandem, it did make Brett look slightly less impressive, only because Glenn was just so damn good at hitting the same spot on the pitch every ball. Lee never had that accuracy, but he didnt need it as much.
      Well done Brett - retire happy and I wish you all the best.

    • wayne says:

      06:39pm | 13/07/12

      Wasn’t a fan really until the 2005 ashes. The way he and Warne held that thing together as the ship was sinking was remarkable with bat as much as ball. The image of him in tears at the end of the Edgbaston test is one that will stay with me forever. Onya Binga.

    • Ian McMinn says:

      07:34pm | 13/07/12

      I took my son to the MCG when Lee destroyed Tendukar (20 something runs). Lee beat him for pace and the little master was belittled to hooking to cow corner. The best thing about Lee he was never an embarresment. My son worshipped him and I’m told, some years later, smashed him off a half pace long hop. Robbie was 17. He tells me Lee (at Mosman nets) was so pissed off he went back to three-quarter run up. My lad never saw that delivery but I might add it did not hurt him. Only made my kid better and Lee - he laughed in a well done kind of way.
      Only the greats can instill so much pride.

    • stephen says:

      08:31pm | 13/07/12

      I met him once when I was a Salesman,(Capitals, thank you) briefly,  at Barclay’s Men’s Wear at Centrepoint in Sydney, (I sold 2 pairs of undies and spent the rest of the time vacuuming the counters) and Brett was introducing his own range on garments to stock.
      He was 6 foot something tall, quite intimidating, actually, (this was in about 2002) and I thought right off that he seemed to have more in his head than he had in impetus.
      He’s a still person, and he should design things.

      He’s very clever, I think.

    • James says:

      10:24pm | 13/07/12

      Will never forget Lee. I was a knocker when he first came onto the scene, but have been forecced to eat my words. Will never forget his batting in the ‘05 ashes and his general good sportsmanship that series. Going to miss seeing the wide brim hat on the boundary that seems to have gone out of style with all other players.

    • Anjuli says:

      12:29pm | 14/07/12

      When Brett Lee was taking wickets his reactions were always entertaining, loved it.

    • Gavin says:

      08:07pm | 14/07/12

      “Lee is a thoughtful guy who’d rather watch 60 Minutes than some TV talent show”

      If you were being serious I think you’d admit that he’s probably the first guy of the current crop most likely to put his hand up to star on these kind of shows..
      Apart from that I agree with the rest of the article. For mine Brett Lee was always close but not close enough. Most of all I’m sick of hearing in the news how he bowled consistently over the 100mph

    • AnthonyG says:

      10:16pm | 15/07/12

      If Lee had any conscience he would have had retired 5 years ago. But you cant blame him for milking Australia for years when you have mates in the right jobs you can make a fortune for doing nothin.

 

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