The former Australian cricketer discusses pace bowling, the importance of athletes having multiple interests, and India’s chances in the ongoing World T20
More than the number of wickets Brett Lee got — and he did get quite a few (718 in international cricket alone), it is how he bowled that impressed one more. He was… fast. Not 135 kmph fast; not 140 kmph fast; he was 150 kmph fast, often. Occasionally, 155 kmph. A few times even breaching 160 kmph. Batters get less than half a second to react to that kind of speed. In other words, they hardly saw it coming.
Brett breathed fire. Sometimes, after shattering the stumps, he would pummel his fists down thrice in celebratory fury. He called it The Chainsaw. It was like a frenzied guitar riff at a hard rock concert. Brett could, however, also play the screeching guitar riff at a rock concert — his rock band Six & Out has made it to the top-100 of the Australian music chart.
The fury on the field belies his soft-natured persona off it. He is polite, mostly smiling. This probably has to do with his longtime job as a salesman. Now, though, we mostly see him in the commentary panel.
The former Australian pacer discusses pace bowling, the importance of a cricketer having multiple interests, and India’s chances in the ongoing World T20.
International cricketers usually retire when they are between 35 and 40. Their autobiographies, which get released soon after, mostly deal with their playing career. So, we rarely get to know the second half of their lives. How has it been for you?
It has been a lot of fun. I have spent the first half of my life travelling around the world, playing the sport I loved, and making a lot of friends. Now it is about enjoying the hard work that has been done. I still enjoy doing my fitness. What I love about the second phase of my life is that I am actually allowed to do things I have always wanted to. I want to enhance my music career, have some fun with it, or enjoy and learn more about wine [Lee is an ambassador of the Australian winemaker Jacob’s Creek].
Speaking of music, what is happening with Six & Out?
Our band was formed in the late ‘90s. We have done over 250 shows around Australia. So, that is a lot of music. We still have it. We have not played a lot of gigs for a while because of COVID-19. We try to make people happy. So, we do stuff to raise money for charity. (Lee sings and plays bass guitar for the band).
Was it difficult to get used to a life without playing cricket in the initial few years after retirement?
It was not that hard. Throughout my career I made sure I did a number of things. I always had a full-time job. I have been in menswear sales for 25 years. Even after playing a Test match against India, I would come home and be straight back in the menswear store selling suits and shirts and ties and socks. It taught me how to deal with people. The next job I had was commentary. I took it up even while I was still playing in the Big Bash League. Then there are my interests in music and wine. So, I was actually upskilling myself in other areas and picking up interests so that when cricket was over, I had these things to fall back on.
Do you advise youngsters to pursue other interests as well?
Absolutely. I think it is very important to have other interests. It does not matter what you do — reading or writing books, or music or fashion or photography, but have a second, third, fourth, and fifth passion, because cricket will not last forever. They also help to take pressure off yourself. Playing music, being outdoors and fishing took the pressure off cricket when I was away from the field. So once I was on the field, I was relaxed and enjoying myself. And, if you are enjoying yourself, you generally play better cricket.
You, like many other former cricketers, are now a commentator. I am assuming you find it easier to talk about the game than to play it.
Well, sometimes it is harder to get inside a player’s mind and see what they are trying to do. I would rather get out on the field and do it myself. Cricket came pretty naturally to me because I enjoyed it. I loved being an athlete, I always wanted to be the fittest in my team. Commentary, meanwhile, can be harder because you are trying to understand another person.
Do you get more time to explore different countries as a commentator than you did as a player?
Not really. As a player, you probably get there six or seven days prior to the first match. As a commentator, you might get there just the night before. So it depends on the scheduling. If you get to the venue, six days prior to commentating, we get to go out and explore of course. But that does not always happen. And, that is good too because, at the end of the day, you want to spend as much as you can with the family.
Who do you spend time with the most during your commentary stints?
A lot of guys. When I am in India, Irfan Pathan, Parthiv Patel, Ajit Agarkar. Scotty Styris, Graeme Swann, the late Dean Jones… It just depends on who is on your commentary panel. I usually go go-karting or have a glass of wine with them.
Dean Jones’ passing away during last year’s IPL was among the saddest moments in cricket last year. You were pretty close to him. How did you cope with his loss?
He is very sorely missed. He was a wonderful guy and has left behind an incredible legacy. He was adored in India as well as Pakistan. [His loss] is still quite raw. I’ll probably not talk too much about that.
Let’s talk about fast-bowling. Almost every country in the top-five or top-six has at least two good quality fast-bowlers. Would you say this is the best era for pacers?
You think about how much the game has improved. How the batsmen are hitting balls further, how they are playing different shots, running fast. But when you look at the bowler’s pace, no one is going past 155 kmph. I thought with all the technology, there would be guys going well over 160 kmph. I do not want the commentators to be saying that 135 (kmph) is quick. It is an okay pace. So, I wonder if we are training correctly. I want the guys to hit that 160 kmph mark. It is hard. And, I have been lucky enough to achieve it. As has Shoaib Akhtar. You can swing the ball at 155 ks and get wickets. But you need to put in hard work, have good technique, and be a good sprinter.
Is it possible for today’s pacers to have a long career in all three forms of the game?
It is important that everyone has the opportunity to try to play all three formats. There might be some players that do not want to play test cricket. There might be some who are specific to T20s. At the end of the day, it comes down to what they want to achieve. And, it is already happening. Players are picking one format of the game.
What do you make of the young crop of fast bowlers? Who has impressed you the most?
I liked Kartik Tyagi from this IPL. He is got some really good pace, a beautiful action, and a nice run up. So he is one guy that I was impressed with. Anrich Nortje from South Africa has got good pace. Then, there is Kagiso Rabada, of course. And, there are others who also hit that 145-150 kmph range. But like I said before, I want them to go beyond 160 kmph.
And, finally, who is your pick for the World T20?
I think India have a very good chance. They did not play their best cricket against Pakistan in their first game. But they are the team to beat. Australia also have a great chance to bring home the trophy for the very first time. It is going to be exciting.