What comes to mind when you talk about Brett Lee? Yes, you got it right. Searing pace. The former Australian pace spearhead had terrorised international batsmen for a bit over 12 years since his Test debut in late 1999, claiming 310 Test and 380 ODI victims. At the peak of his career, he was in a neck and neck competition with Pakistan's Shoaib Akhtar to be the most menacing fast bowler, and had sent down a 161.1 kmph thunderbolt against New Zealand in a ODI in 2005, breaking the 160 kmph mark twice in the same over. He was recorded to have hit the 160 kmph mark during the 2003 World Cup, before that.
"My greatest asset is my speed and I will use it for as long as possible. I am not going out to bowl 130kmph," Lee once said.
The speed merchant, who is part of the official commentary team for the ongoing Indian Premier League, was in Mumbai on Thursday for the Mumbai Indians versus Sunrisers Hyderabad match at the Wankhede, and also to attend an event to launch Bowling Master – a bowling aid tool – in India.
The discussion while interacting with reporters at Hotel Trident overlooking a serene Arabian Sea invariably veered towards the nitty gritties of fast bowling and the Australian stalwart was in his elements while fielding the questions.
"Bowling fast is good. I don't think any batsman in world likes facing guys bowling over 150 Kmph. I certainly didn't. But there is a difference between bowling fast and pitching the ball in the right areas. If you bowl fast but on the wrong length and line, you will go the journey. I have certainly gone the journey the few times I didn't get the right length," said Lee.
What is the right length to bowl then? Lee explains it beautifully.
"With a brand new ball, for example, you would aim to hit the good/full length. When the ball is brand new it is harder and bounces more. As the ball becomes older your length will slightly come back to more of a good length. If you are bowling in T20s and you are bowling good length at the end, you will go for six. Then you got to adjust and work on bowling, maybe a yorker, or a short ball. So the good length in general is where you would bowl with the new ball nine times out of ten and then as it goes on you would work out that the yorker is probably the most important ball in the game. I think personally these days bowlers don't bowl enough yorkers," the former Australian pacer said.
He noted that bowling on a good length brings every dismissal into play and that it should be the stock delivery for a fast bowler. "If you see the most successful bowlers of all time, they are the ones who have consistently bowled that good line and length. What you don't want to do as a bowler is to bowl too full or too short. When you are bowling too full the batsman is going to deal with it, and when you are bowling too short, you take a lot of the dismissals out of play," Lee said, adding that he preferred to use the short ball as the target delivery.
In this context, he referred to Australian pace legend Glenn McGrath as someone who would have dug a hole on the good length area by continuously pitching the ball there, and explained it as one of the major reasons for his 563 Test wickets.
But not just hitting the correct length, change of pace is perhaps as important. Lee concurs, while pointing out that the slower ball bouncer is something that bowlers in the IPL have not been using as much as they should.
"I think change of pace is very important, especially in the shorter format of the game. The one thing that I haven't seen over here recently is the slower ball bouncer. Now if you bowl the slower ball bouncer too full, that's when you go the journey, that's when you are hit for six. You need to work out quickly on what surface you are playing and where to land the slower ball bouncer. That comes with practice. My slower ball bouncer is going to be very short. Because you are taking pace off the ball, you need the ball short enough to get up to what I call the 'sweet zone' where you want to get the batsman to play a false shot. Another thing I haven't seen (in the IPL) is the wide line yorker. If you are slightly off, if you are half-a-metre off, that's when you get hit for six," Lee said.
India and Mumbai Indians pacer Jasprit Bumrah came in for special praise from Lee, who thought Bumrah had the perfect yorker.
Talking on the importance of accuracy for a bowler in T20 cricket, the former pacer said, the shortest format of the game exposes bowlers. "I always say that when you go and play the shortest format of the game, you take your ego and you leave it at home, put it in a safe. If you try to bring it to the ground you know that you are going to get hit for sixes," he said, but averred that "a good length with a brand new ball in any format of the game will still get wickets".
The event was attended by Indian legends Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, apart from Australians Jason Krejza, Mitchell Johnson and David Warner.