The ‘fastest bowler in the world’ epithet once belonged to him. Brett Lee, the tall and rangy Aussie cricketer, has always liked pace in his life. Not only on the field when he belted the ball like a man possessed, but off it too, as he could don the sherwani and dhoti in a trice. No, Brett Lee was not getting married in India or in a sherwani for that matter, when I met him.
It was in the year 2006 when he was in Delhi to launch a new range of Timex watches. At the time he was the brand ambassador for Timex. But the pin-up boy of Australian cricket was on the verge of tying the knot.
(Seven years later, now, when I was doing my research on Lee, I read that he had divorced his wife two years later in 2008 on the grounds of her suspected infidelity)
“I am getting married next month in Australia to my fiancee, Elizabeth. Getting engaged was the best thing that happened to me. It’s been my favourite day,” smiled Lee appearing at ease in his heavily embroidered sherwani as he was in casual tee and jeans.
He might have been accused of being hostile at the game of cricket as he sets stumps flying with breathtaking speed, but the boyish charm and happy-go-lucky attitude belied it completely.
“An aggressive approach along with a healthy body is a must. But aggressive doesn’t mean abusive. I would rather concentrate on getting a wicket than abusing the bloke opposite me,” he noted.
In one-day internationals, Lee was widely regarded as one of the world’s finest bowlers, with a wide array of deliveries including a devastating in-swinging Yorker. Add to it the fact that he vied with Pakistani bowler Shoaib Akhtar for the mantle of the ‘World’s Fastest Bowler’.
Said Lee: “I usually clock 150 kph. My fastest ball this summer was 159.6 kph in Durban against South Africa. The fastest so far though has been the 161 kph at which I bowled last summer against New Zealand.”
Around March-April of that year Lee had become the spearhead of the Australian bowling lineup. “The beginning was in my first ‘real’ game when I was 9 years old,” he jested. Lee took 6-0 in one over. He recounted how some of the opposition team members started crying, and soon enough, parents from other opposition teams started complaining that he was too fast.
Cut to 2006. The Aussie cricketer was aspiring to be an all-rounder. It was reflected in his wielding the willow in recent times. His aggressive style had netted him many fours and sixes, including one six which flew out of the Gabba (Brisbane). It was billed as the biggest six to ever hit at that ground.
Lee’s affair with the bat started with the 2005 Ashes Series where he had numerous memorable innings. In April this year, he hit his highest test score of 64 off 68 balls against South Africa at the Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg, with some spectacular shots.
He had just been named one of five Wisden Cricketers of the Year in 2006. But nothing comes in easy in life, confirmed Lee as he talked about injuries and the ignominy of having one’s bowling action questioned.
He said: “I went through a lot of pain for a few months because of the accusation even though I was sure that there was nothing wrong with my action. I came out of it a stronger cricketer in a way. Yet I bowl the same way.”
Mentors like his father, brother Shane, and cricketers Steve Waugh and Mark Taylor helped him feel motivated in the game. “One time I had this chat with Mark Taylor. He told me I was going the wrong way. Possibly how he was seeing from where he was sitting, I could do something different. So I did it and things worked. Steve Waugh was great too — great captain who would make a great coach,” he added.
Part of the game is contending with generous dollops of fame and the other part lies in dealing with injuries. There’s no cricketer who has probably come out of his career san injuries. Lee too broke his back twice, “a complete fracture through the vertebrae”, when he was 19 and again when he was 23 years old. A combination of pilates, yoga and exercise helped him strengthen his back.
“If it was easy, everybody would be playing for their country. What separates cricketers with potential from great cricketers is how much pain they can withstand and push it. Sometimes you can’t possibly help what happens. I keep in shape by training my abdominals, lower back. I do a lot of stretching to make sure that my hamstrings and cords are always strong,” he pointed out.
Nursing a broken back however didn’t mean that Lee sat idle at home. He was out of one job, but he had another – that of a suit salesman at Barclay’s Menswear. Yes, believe it or not, the guy sold suits at the store. He had been doing so for the last 12 years.
“My motto in life is that if someone gives you a start in life, make sure that you stay committed to them. Being loyal is the most important thing in the world. Richard Bowman gave me a job when I was young, under 19. I was playing first grade cricket and I wasn’t even in the state team,” recalled Lee who had gone to get measured up for the junior Australian team jersey with his mother when he received the offer from Bowman.
It was at the store that he learnt about the nitty gritties of fashion – fabrics, techniques, size and fittings. Lee fell straight into it. He became a “walking public relations machine” — whenever he was in the city he would dress up in Barclay’s suits and shirts. The 29-year-old even has his own clothing range, ‘Brett Lee-The Label’. And he retails it only from Barclay’s.
The BL range started off as a casual wear label “for the fit and the fashionable”, but it has also of recent moved into corporate wear. “It’s not only my name that sells my clothes. There are Europeans who come and buy them, people who possibly wouldn’t know anything about cricket or Brett Lee. It makes me feel nice. That apart, of course, my friends wear my clothes. A couple of Indian cricketers have been to Barclay’s and bought my label,” Lee says.
Lee’s passion in life is making music with his band Six & Out. But it’s not a solo act. There’s older brother Shane and their three state cricketer friends. Lee plays the bass guitar and accompanies Richard Chee Quee on vocals, Shane and Brad McNamara on guitars and Gavin Robertson on drums. Younger brother, Grant, occasionally joins them when they perform often and on at charity functions.
While on tour, Lee carries along his guitar. Apart from the base and electric guitar, he plays the piano, drums and mouth organ. He and his two brothers, Shane and Grant, were introduced to the piano during their school holidays. “But my mother complains that I didn’t have the time to learn because I couldn’t sit still for 5 minutes,” laughed the blond player.
Brought up in Wollongong, New South Wales, Lee is the second of three sons, born to Bob and Helen Lee. The three brothers grew up indulging in soccer, basketball and skiing during their school holidays. It’s a close-knit family that likes to spend time together.
What was next? It was the wedding that was going to be a small family affair. He said: “Both our families will be there. Liz is the best thing to happen to me. We met about five years ago when we met and kind of fell for each other. And now that I am heading home off for five full months, I want to spend most of my time her and my folks. If someone told me that I had to give up fashion, cricket and my music to guarantee my family’s health and happiness, I’d do it.”
Some things you didn’t know about Brett
* Brett Lee’s parents gave him a gold necklace and bracelet for his 17th birthday. He rarely takes them off.
* Lee is afraid of heights and sharks (This was the comical bit in my interview with Lee because when he told me shark, I kept thinking he meant shock. The Aussie twang did me in).
* He always puts his left shoe on first. Cricketing superstition? His take on it: “You’ve got to put one on first, so why not the left?!”
* The first Hindi song he heard was Muqabla Muqabla, at the age of 17, when he was on an under-19 tour of India. He owns the cassette.
* Lee’s fascination with things Indian extends from actress Preity Zinta to butter chicken. He is also the proud owner of a sitar that he was presented with two trips back when he was in India.
(Pic 1: Courtesy, fanpop.com , Pic 2: Courtesy, images99.com, Pic 3: Courtesy indiascanner.com)