The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the fiercest of them all

His surname has more in common with the great Dennis Lillee, but it is being said he instils a Jeff Thomson-like terror into batsmen the world over.

Australian’s current coach John Buchanan said the other day that Brett Lee has introduced a new element — the fear factor — into the world’s batsmen.

Is this merely a part of Australia’s psychological warfare prior to the World Cup final, a tactic they are so famous for — putting pressure and doubt into the minds of their opponents'

Twin terror: Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee

Or can Lethal Lee truly be compared to the human slingshot that shattered stumps and bones and drove a wedge of fear into opposition batsmen'

Moreover, can his opening ball partnership with Glenn McGrath be put on the same pedestal as that of the Lillee-Thomson pairing'

Buchanan has suggested fear has played a significant part in Lee’s recent destructive performances. And you would have to agree that the 26-year-old has strung together some withering spells of pace over the past fortnight.

He is not only bowling consistently fast but has returned to his lethal best as a Thommo-like sandshoe-crushing wicket-taker with 20 wickets in the tournament so far. Lee has sent two batsmen to hospital and sent down a 160kmph thunderbolt that spread-eagled Maravan Atapattu’s stumps in the semi-final.

While Thomson knew that he put fear into batsmen and used that advantage to the fullest, Lee is not too sure if he genuinely frightens world-class batsmen.

“When you’re playing first grade back home there might be a few batsmen who get scared. But you’re playing against the world’s best batsmen, and I don’t think they fear the fast bowlers,” he says with all humility.

Thommo, who took 200 Test wickets, was open about his “blood on the pitch” tactics. There is a story about Thommo during the Ashes series in which Sir Colin Cowdrey was called out of retirement and rushed to Australia.

Having just arrived from England, Cowdrey walked in to bat in a full-sleeve sweater and took his place at the non-striker’s end. Thommo had just scalped the last batsman and glared down at Cowdrey, muttering about the plans he had for the next batsman at the crease. Cowdrey put out his hand and said, “Good morning, my name is Colin Cowdrey.”

“I didn’t know what to say or do,” recalls Thommo with a smile. “Here I was ready to spill blood and this old fella was wishing me good morning and shaking my hand!”

Brett Lee, with 89 Test scalps under his belt, has often said that sending someone to hospital isn’t the greatest feeling.

“I’ve heard how some quicks enjoy hurting batsmen, but when my deliveries hit batsmen, that’s not what I planned.” Just last year, there was talk that Lee, who was as prone to costly misfires in his younger days as he is now to match-winning bursts, might not be suited to one-day cricket. At that time, captain Ricky Ponting even asked his fastest bowler to tighten up and complement the wickets with dot-balls.

Of course, comparisons between Lee and Thommo also crop up when there is talk about the fastest ball in the game. Most Australians had thought it would be their very own Smiling Assassin who would break the record held by Thommo, who 27 years ago was officially credited with 99.73mph (160.5kmph). But that credit went to the Rawalpindi Express.

Thommo’s legendary partner Lillee, though, isn’t convinced about the Pakistani firebrand’s credentials.

Lillee’s concept of what a good fast bowler should be, is clear when he says, “it seems the faster Akhtar tries to bowl, the less he is on his game, which is to take wickets”.

Perhaps there is a lesson in this for Lee as well.

Thomson adapted his methods later in his career, relying less on sheer pace and more on an excellent cutter, seam and swing. He was always capable of unleashing a very fast bouncer that would skid and follow the batsman from only just short of length.

Lillee too made adjustments after back injuries, just as McGrath has done over recent years. Lillee, of course, never broke any speed barriers when he was bowling and mere raw speed has never been McGrath’s weapon.

In fact, Lillee, the world’s one-time leading wicket-taker, can’t even remember his top speed.

“Around these speeds all I can say is that it is bloody fast.”

That is not to say Lillee was not deadly. There is a famous story of Lillee delivering a swinging yorker into the pads of an opening batsman and appealing loudly. The batsman was plumb and the umpire gave him out. Lillee was surprised when the player didn’t move but stood, propped on his bat, at the crease. “Owzat,” yelled Dennis again.

“That’s out,” shouted the umpire. Still the batsman didn’t move.

“That’s out you Pommie *******,” said Dennis. “Now bugger off.”

Whereupon the batsman said: “I’d love to, Dennis, but I can’t. You see, I think you’ve broken my bloody leg.”

And he had.

It is unlikely that McGrath and Lee can replace those memories of the Deadly Duo, and so it must go in to cricket folklore that: “Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust, if Lillee don’t get you, then Thommo must.”

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