One of the most vivid memories of recent cricket history was when Andrew Flintoff found time amidst the euphoria and hullabaloo of victory to console Brett Lee after England had scraped home by two runs at Edgbaston in 2005.
Flintoff recognised a fellow warrior when he saw one and as throughout his career in the baggy green, Lee had given absolutely everything for his country and nearly shepherded them to another famous victory; one that would have undoubtedly retained the urn for Australia. Lee was to be similarly disappointed after an heroic bowling spell, with Shane Warne operating at the other end, also saw Australia fall just short at Trent Bridge two tests later.
Defeat was a rarity in a test career that started in 1999 with Australia dominant and ended just as his country’s crown had slipped with series defeats in India and at home to South Africa in 2008. Lee took 310 wickets in 76 tests, which is good enough but all the more impressive considering he had to share the spoils with McGrath, Gillespie and Warne for most of his career.
It was to Australia’s chagrin and England’s relief that Lee did not participate in the Ashes last summer, having been injured for the first four tests and then overlooked for the Oval decider. The surface in that final test was perfect for Lee’s express pace and penchant for reverse swing, and if he had played the outcome could well have been very different. Certainly, Lee showed in the ODIs that followed the tests, as well as the Champions Trophy in South Africa and the T20 Champions League in India that he could still be a devastating match-winning bowler.
And it is 50 over and T20 cricket that will now be the limit for Lee after he announced his retirement from test cricket earlier today. Like Flintoff, this decision is simply down to injuries taking their toll rather than any ambivalence to test cricket. Lee ruefully explained that “Obviously, there’s specialist one-day and Twenty20 bowlers, but for me, Test cricket is where it’s at. There’s a lot of luck in Twenty 20, a lot of skill and a bit of luck in one-dayers. But Test cricket is a test for the bowlers and a test for the batsmen.”
Lee will be missed from test cricket, although this Pom believes it gives England a better chance of retaining the Ashes next winter. Ricky Ponting provided a fitting epitaph when he said of Lee’s career “If we all just take a minute and think about what he’s put himself through in that 10 or 12 years, running 35 metres to bowl every ball, bowling every ball at close to 150kph, and putting his heart on the line every ball he bowls, this bloke deserves a massive pat on the back.”
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