Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Brett Lee – a Test career in review

A notable absentee from the Australian team participating in the ICC World Twenty20 in the Caribbean is Brett Lee. The spearhead of the attack following the retirement of Glenn McGrath after ICC World Cup 2007, he was forced to miss the competition due to an arm injury, a sad echo of the ankle trouble which forced him to miss the longer format of the competition when it was hosted in the Caribbean three years ago.

He ended his Test career with 310 wickets – fourth in the pantheon of Australian all-time greats, trailing only Warne, McGrath and Lillee. Often overshadowed by the first two for most of his career stats-wise, how do the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings assess his career and his contribution to the last decade of Australian cricket?

He made his debut in the 1999 Boxing Day Test against India at Melbourne and marked the occasion by taking 5-47, the first of ten five-wicket hauls in his Test career. In fact he had a stellar start to his career, taking at least 2 wickets in each of the first 10 innings in which he bowled – a mark exceeded by only two bowlers in the history of Test cricket – Ken Higgs and Maurice Tate. It seemed the sky was the limit as he moved into the world’s top twenty Test bowlers after just seven Tests with a tally of 42 wickets at an average of just 16.07. However, there then followed a long period where he “plateaued”, spending the vast majority of the next six years hovering somewhere between tenth and twentieth. At the same time, his bowling average climbed to the wrong side of thirty.

The 2006/07 Ashes series proved to be the catalyst to propel Lee to the highest level. At the traditional peak age for faster bowlers of thirty, he took twenty wickets in the series to lead the Australians to a 5-0 whitewash over the reigning Ashes holders. The subsequent retirements of both Warne and McGrath promoted Lee to the spearhead of the attack and he responded superbly. In the winter of 2007/08, he shrugged off the disappointment of missing Australia’s record third successive World Cup triumph by taking 58 wickets in nine Tests leading his side to series victories over Sri Lanka, India and the West Indies. His Rating rose dramatically as a result of this success and Lee reached his peak of 811 points and fourth position at the end of the series in the Caribbean in May 2008.

Surprisingly enough, Lee never managed to take ten wickets in a Test Match. In fact, he and Bob Willis are the only two bowlers to have taken more than 300 Test wickets without achieving that feat. Of course, it didn’t help that Lee’s career overlapped with two of the greatest bowlers to ever play the game, and Willis had to share his wickets with Ian Botham for a large proportion of his career.

Alas, injury has played a part in his career since his most recent Test – the 2008 Boxing Day Test with South Africa at Melbourne, but he was able to end his career still ranked in the top ten in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for Test bowlers despite taking just one wicket in his last two matches.

Once he has recovered from his current injury he will hope to continue his career in One Day International cricket which has so far brought him 324 wickets in 186 matches. A permanent fixture in the world’s top ten ODI bowlers from September 2002 until June 2008, he peaked at 853 points in February 2006 and spent a month on top of the world in early 2006. Who would bet against him recapturing that form with all his efforts focused on that form of the game?