New Delhi: Brett Lee, the Australian fast bowler, has called time on a 13-year international career in which he took 310 Test and 380 ODI wickets. In his autobiography, My Life, which was released in June, the 35-year-old has written of some interesting recollections form his playing days at the highest level.
Here's an extract from the book:
Standing at the top of my mark about to bowl my first delivery was one of the proudest moments of my life. I still get tingles thinking about it now. The crowd cheered when they heard my name, but I tried to block them out as I took a deep breath and charged in. I can't actually remember my first three deliveries; just to have landed them on the cut stuff was an achievement. A five-over-old ball and grey skies helped the chances for swing. All I tried to do was bring the ball back into the left-hander Sadagoppan Ramesh. I ran in for my fourth delivery, and before I realized what I was doing I was bumping past Justin Langer at bat pad and racing towards a celebrating slips cordon.
Ramesh had edged a good length ball onto his stumps, and I was running around like a madman. I'd got a Test wicket. A bloody Test wicket! Shit! Gilly and Slats (Michael Slater) hugged me, Tugga and Warnie shook my hand, and Junior (Mark Waugh), who didn't like a lot of 'man-love', gave me a pat on the back. Once all that happened, I thought: 'Well, there’s no reason why I can't get more wickets.’
I got another one in my second spell. It came too easily when Rahul Dravid flashed at a wide one and Gilly took the catch. Although I felt comfortable enough I was still a bit more tense than usual, and it wasn't until my third spell, when the ball started reverse swinging, that I really started enjoying myself. In my eyes all the pressure was off me. For the first time I could see on a speed gun how fast I was bowling. To see the numbers flash up on the scoreboard was one thing, but to hear people in the crowd talking about it really got me going: ‘He’s bowling at 154.8 kays an hour!’ I heard them because I was only a few metres away when I was fielding on the boundary. I had to laugh at the difference between being in front of the Members Stand and the outer crowd. In one area I’d hear, ‘He’s bowling with decent pace,’ and in the other there’d be: ‘Shit, that’s quick!’
Before going on, it’s appropriate to head back to my Mount Warrigal childhood. During backyard games a good whip off the legs, usually by Shane, often meant another tennis ball was added to the dozens on top of the roof or in the gutter of the house of our neighbour Maureen. One day, Shane decided I should go and collect them all. After big brother gave me a boost, I climbed up a pole and scuttled onto the roof where I saw an oasis of 50 or more balls. Many of them had been up there for a year or more, so the fur was burnt off on the sides facing the sun, while those in the gutter were bald on one side and wet on the other.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, those balls introduced me to bowling ‘spit rock’, or a type of reverse swing. Holding the wet side towards leg, I practised inswinging yorkers. Years later Shane showed me how old cricket balls weighted on one side with spit could bend the same way. It was something he’d picked up from Mike Whitney and Wayne Holdsworth at NSW training. The principle was that the ball had similar properties to a lawn bowl with bias. Shane and I had experimented with it for the Blues and Mosman.
There was also another way of ‘reversing’, by keeping one side of the ball rough and dry, and the other as smooth as possible. In this, the theory was that air travelled more quickly over the smooth side and created a drag effect. Like conventional swing there was some mystery to it because there were days when it just wouldn’t work, and others when the ball started to go unexpectedly. Unlike conventional swing, the ball swung much later, making it even tougher to play. When it worked, it was one of the most, if not the most lethal weapon of the fast bowling trade. I felt I could knock over any batsman in the world with reverse swing. That’s not being arrogant; I just believed I had the ability and pace to be very difficult to play, especially for a tail-end batsman. So, when the ball started moving against the Indians, I knew I had a good chance of picking up more wickets.
I heard someone from the crowd say: ‘He could get five. Five on debut! How good would that be?’ Until then, I hadn’t thought about a 5-for; I was just out there having fun. India were 5-167 when I started the fifth over of my third spell. First ball, I went for the spit-rock yorker that ended up being a shin-high full toss that swung in late and bowled Mannava Prasad. Next ball I went for the yorker again, and this time I got it spot on, hitting Ajit Agarkar on the foot. I appealed, the slips cordon appealed, and I reckon about 50,000 at the ground went up as well; Shane was in the crowd with his Mosman teammates Andrew Yates and Craig Hughes. He told me later he reckoned he was first out of his seat and spilled his beer. ‘Shep’—umpire Shepherd—put his finger up, and I was on a hat-trick. I didn’t want that moment to end, but part of me was wanting to race off the field and ring Mum and Dad.
When I went back to my mark Tugga jogged up from gully to have a word. I was too pumped to remember what he said; nor did I know what field I had. I knew what I was going to do with my next delivery: if I’d been two times lucky, well, why not three? The noise was deafening as I ran in while fans belted the advertising boards around the boundary fence. I let the ball go, and it just wasn’t to be. Javagal Srinath pushed a widish one to cover, and I smiled. I wasn’t disappointed. How could I be? If I could bottle up a mixture of a natural high to sell, I would have chosen that moment.
Three balls later I sniffed Srinath and the ball popped off his gloves to Mark Waugh in the slips. I turned around and appealed while running back and into the hugs of my teammates. The crowd was roaring and I was dreaming. On the replay on the scoreboard I saw myself saying, ‘Far out, I’ve got 5-for!’, or words to that effect. It was clear as day. Tugga came up and shook my hand and said: ‘Well done.’ He didn’t show any great emotion, but I think quietly he was happy because his support for me had been justified. I was glad I’d proved him right; I would rather have let myself down than Tugga. I then walked back to third man, took my cap off and thanked the crowd who were on their feet. It was a great moment, definitely one of the best of my career.
My Life by Brett Lee, with James Knight (Random House India, Rs499)