Pitch perfect

Pitch perfect

What would be your expectations before flipping through the pages of a fast-bowler’s autobiography? Tales of fractured limbs and spots of blood, anecdotes of battles won against the best of batsmen described with a touch of self-pontification, a spicy account of a few on and off field events during his career, or a combination of all this?

Before trying to find an answer to that, think also about the picture of a fast bowler in your mind. Does that match with the figure of a colourful, furious, big-talking, frowning man running in to bowl at 150 km? The autobiography penned by Shoaib Akhtar — Controversially Yours — fits that bill quite perfectly. Akhtar even boasts of Sachin Tendulkar quaking in his boots as he saw him running from the top of the mark. Those who have read it might harbour similar thoughts of finding a book full of rant before laying their hands on Brett Lee’s My Life.

The Australian pacer is a hardcore party man and has gone through his share of controversies, including that of being reported for chucking early in his career, and has also engaged in some memorable duels with the finest batsmen of his generation from India, England, South Africa and West Indies, in more than a decade spent playing top-shelf cricket. Though some of the aforementioned episodes do give fibre to the main thread of the Lee story, they, refreshingly, do not take centre stage. The book unfolds Lee, the human being, through his experiences at the backyard of his Sydney home, the fabled Sydney Cricket Ground, streets of Adelaide and in the dusty, humid towns of the sub-continent.

The individual portrayed here is not a superhuman athlete, but a simple next-door bloke capable of experiencing fear, pain, anxiety and excitement. All these familiar emotions surface at various junctures — while undergoing treatment for  severe back pain even before he made his international debut, while getting interviewed by Richard Bowman for the job of a sales executive at a fashion house and while making his debut as a promising tear-away in 1999-2000. But more significantly, he is prone to errors. The Lee, who we see in these pages, does not suffer from the I-can’t-fail-syndrome, as he looks into himself after each failure, even if it is of miniscule nature, to find a way to move forward. But he is not alone in the task.

The keystones of his every revival are the bonds with his family — dad, mother and two brothers, his trust in the cricketing acumen of that fine fast bowler Dennis Lillee and a group of friends, who stood by him through all turmoils. In the book, co-authored by James Knight, Lee carefully uses cricket as a medium to show his deep-rooted connection to them, thereby reminding us that sportsmens too are normal human beings and should be treated that way rather than as larger-than-life figures. His concern about life beyond cricket is vividly depicted through his effort to avoid a chasing photographer eager to take a few exclusive snaps.

It’s an incomprehensible and disturbing situation for Lee as, here, his craving for some private time with his daughter has been denied. He loves the spotlight and cherishes time spent with his teammates, but the commitment to his family comes above everything. This trait is best exemplified in his desire to run away and hug his parents and siblings in the stadium after taking five wickets in his Test debut against
India in 1999.

But Lee has not compromised on highlighting the hard-nosed competitor in him either, and narcissism has not spoiled the self-description. He has been the battering ram of the Australian team that had held sway over the cricketing world like a monarch in the last decade.

However, Lee dons the role of a humble companion of greats such as Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Steve Waugh, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist, while he is a friendly co-passenger of other contemporaries like Jason Gillespie, Andrew Symonds and Michael Kasprowicz. Even the narration of some of the bitterly-fought series like the Ashes in 2005 and the one against India in 2008 is laced with the remoteness and equanimity of an analyst without diluting the clarity of his views on the happenings.

It is the most striking aspect of the book as well. Some of the recent books and comments to have come out of Australia have contained unnecessary vitriol about opposition teams, particularly Indians. But Lee refrains from such antics, while often expressing his immense respect for players like Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, and Indian culture in general; a possible reason behind Lee’s book not hitting as much headlines in India as Gilchrist’s autobiography True Colours — My Life, might be that unlike the latter, Lee’s book did not contain highly sensitive remarks. Perhaps, he’s incapable of snipe. After all, he still is a boy from

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