It’s been just over five years since my life took a bit of a turn (a turn for the better in hindsight) and I began my journey as a sports presenter and commentator.
I feel blessed to have worked with, come across and formed close friendships with many cricketers who I once worshipped on the field of play, or watched in awe as they took on the world and displayed their craft. Many of them were the best in the world at some point in their careers and in the second chapter of their calling, I’ve found them to be genuinely great blokes to sit down with over a glass of wine or a can of Red Bull (with perhaps an addition thrown in too).
To me, Brett Lee is someone that firmly falls in that category. He is someone I have had the privilege of spending many evenings with, talking about not just sport, but family, food and music, and the various things that life tends to throw at us. But of course, we have spoken at length about the highs and lows of sport too.
I’ve always believed that you can learn something special from enriching conversations, and the past five years have only firmed up that opinion. Brett is one of those guys who could ease into a conversation with anyone you put in a room with him. As a bonus, he will strum his guitar should the conversation end, and he will even throw in a few Bollywood numbers to satisfy the Indian ears in the room.
Brett was the leader of one of the greatest fast-bowling units of his era; or of any cricket era for that matter. He retired from the game with more than 700 international scalps and has damaged a lot of stumps, toes and batsmen’s egos along the way. India has always showered him with love, and he has returned that love. In his own words, “It’s the lovely people, the food, the environment and the culture that just keeps me coming back,” Brett says fondly about India.
I had made my cricket commentary debut with Brett and Dean Jones during the 2018 season of the Karnataka Premier League. It was a great experience overall to be able to share the mic with a couple of guys I could share a few laughs with, even while we were live on air sometimes.
With Brett ready to share his golden secrets on fast bowling, I had the opportunity to do a masterclass with him, where he spilt the beans on not just technique but also about the appetite needed for fast bowling.
Asked about his earliest moment when he knew he wanted a career as a cricketer and he promptly replied, “I remember going to mum and dad at the age of nine saying, ‘Look, my dream is to one day play for Australia. I’m going to play for Australia. And I want to be the world’s fastest bowler.’”
He was clearly a visionary at the age of nine, and he certainly went on to scare some of the best batsmen in the world while he fulfilled his calling.
“Dennis Lillee was always someone I watched growing up with the shirt buttoned-down and hair flying everywhere. But the main person I maybe looked up to at the time was Alan Donald. ‘White Lightning’; absolute legend, clean action, and wore the white sweatband which was why I actually wore it too,” recalled Brett.
That day, we spoke at length about bowling action, the various grips a fast bowler might use to release the ball, and the importance of how the bowler lands as well. I managed to get all this insight from a man who bowled at over 150kmph with consistency and accuracy.
“I reckon it’s almost impossible to bowl at over 150 clicks with a bent front knee on landing. It’s almost like a pole-vaulter who needs the pole to hyper-extend to launch him/her across the bar. That’s why it’s so important to be strong through the glutes and – with the pressure going right through from the ankle upwards through the knees – the hamstrings and quads too. That’s why we speak of the high workload on a fast bowler and need to manage it,” said Brett.
I had always imagined it could be extremely hard to balance being exceptionally menacing on the field and yet find an ability to switch off beyond the boundary. But Brett Lee is certainly one individual who has done that with aplomb and is undeniably one of the nicer men in the sport of cricket, with plenty left in the tank to give back to the sport and social causes that are close to him.
There are fast bowlers, and there are fast bowling legends. Brett Lee falls firmly in the latter.