Condensation made its way down the glass and onto the varnished oak bar. Whilst I was considering the next beer a tall, sinewy blonde wandered in and sat two stools away. The barman’s attention dissolved into disinterest instantaneously as he stealthily hovered over to the new customer. The blonde ordered a cranberry juice with ice and fresh lime, noteworthy because on a warm day in Sydney beer seems to free-flow almost medicinally. Readjusting my gaze down the bar revealed an interesting picture. My new cranberry-sipping, slight, blonde neighbour was none other than the 99 mile-an-hour-man.
I was bound for Heathrow in three days. I decided to get his autograph while the opportunity beckoned. Our transaction came to an end, he shook my hand with his angular, rock-solid, coarse excuses for fingers and I made my exit. These weren’t the hands of a politician, revolutionary or Bollywood-come-Baz-Luhrmann musician, despite his affinity for the music, cricketing politics and, this summer, hostile takeovers. These were the sculpted spades of a man who has plied his trade by hurling red leather at other men’s important spots at breakneck speed. The blonde who signed my bar tab was Brett Lee.
Numerous pillars and impressions of Australian cricket have been irrevocably deracinated this summer. Among the former, Ponting and Hussey have moved on to the green pastures of family and commentary life as Clarke leads a talented-come-teenage outfit into the future with great aplomb. However it is soap opera-esque sub-plots that have commanded the attention of the recent season’s followers, shifting our perceptions and leaving behind an ominous and pervasive sense of cynicism towards the game’s characters and administrators alike. Lee is included here, despite possessing the handshake of fire and brimstone incarnate and the clean-cut grin of an American orthodontist.
Deep breath. We have seen John Invarity’s testy version of selection rotation – ‘informed player management’ – a phrase with more spin than Muralitharan’s off-breaks, the latest ‘dossier’ for success composed largely of the blindingly obvious and unhelpful, the commercially conflicted pie throwing over George Bailey’s supposed ‘b-side’, Marlon Samuals feeding Warne a new diet of hardened willow at 22 yards, Warne flushing the BBL rule book down a public toilet and Brett Lee’s Leninist purges at the top of New South Wales Cricket. Sigh.
However, administrators and politicians were born to wage wars of the aggressively inconsequential. Warne was born to be larger than life, hair-plugged, orange and irritatingly loveable. Leaked dossiers were written hilariously useless in order to be tabloid-worthy. The media-bullied Bailey was driven to acidic public retribution when the worth of his profession and leadership were brought into question by Channel Nine. Brett Lee however is a man who’s feelings for opponents would drift from wilful decapitation to tender loving care in a second. He combined fire with the kind of honourable concern of old, always checking on batsmen after clouting them. Alas this caring post-script has now vanished. This development is perhaps the most distracting of the summer.
Lee’s shiny grin has been adulterated with fool’s gold teeth despite his limited appearances on the pitch of late. His contribution to the Ramsay Street-esque-capades of his piers has acted as the musical score to this summer-long soap. Right or wrong Lee called for the chop of Dave Gilbert, the chief executive for Cricket New South Wales, critical of his part in the sacking of NSW coach Anthony Stewart. However having walked into a meeting at the CNSW offices facing a disciplinary whipping post, he walked out with a new job. Lee now holds a role at the table of a board sub-committee devised to address problems in the game in the state.
Gilbert was eventually purged and more recently, in the post-revolutionary cannibalistic banquet, NSW chairman Dr Harry Harinath has too been sent to the guillotine. Oh the drama of the reversal, the revolutionary zeal and theatrical fortitude to begin a new career from a what promised to be an afternoon thrashing! Too rough for a career shuffling paper and giving golden handshakes in archaic, impenetrable corridors of cricketing power, they may not be the hands of a politician. Though in Lee’s case, alongside the turbulence at NSW and Cricket Australia, they’re betrayed by his evident taste for public dissent and wholesale administrational progression.
Always entertaining, though not for the best reasons, the intriguing Brett Lee saga is an apt metaphor for the Australian summer on and off the pitch. Though thankfully it has been a more wholesome if equally changeable period of Australian cricket on the field. Awash with youth, aggression and the seemingly interminable run parade of Michael Clarke the team have performed hardily against South Africa and sensationally against Sri Lanka. The only threat of real drama arrived with Australia’s bitter adversary, the swinging ball. So often the culprit of collapses in world cricket these days, it nearly derailed Clarke’s otherwise healthy summer during the ODIs with Sri Lanka. Australia nonetheless earned a 2-2 draw. It seems the 5-0 pounding of the West Indians to cap off the season is the only remnant of predictability to survive. Their brand of calypso cricket, scintillating in patches and howlingly poor in others, is still not good enough to secure a one-day victory in Australia.
The links between and remaining integrity of the on-pitch and political worlds have been held together beautifully by Michael Clarke. The Australia captain is the fighting general, a man with the rare combination of gifts both ministerial and soldierly. He has kept the roller coaster on the tracks, just. It could have been a better summer in results and far calmer in the sport’s periphery, but Clarke can afford to be happy with the lead into one of his side’s most gruelling years. 2013 will see Australia in India twice, two Ashes series and the ICC Champions Trophy. The off season in Australia will probably prove quieter from the power brokers as the team tour the subcontinent and England. The quieter the better if it means the parliamentarian sparring ceases and fewer character suicides and assassinations prevail.
By James Rowland