'Now I don't worry about ripping heads off'

21 May 2017

'Music is probably my first love' says Lee // Getty

Our voices

Australia fast bowler Brett Lee gives a remarkable interview on life after cricket with The Maccabees songwriter Felix White

Brett Lee was one of the most feared fast bowlers of his generation. He took 310 Test wickets and 380 ODI wickets as part of an Australia team that is regarded by some as the greatest side of all time.

I first met him through a friend at a Test match in Sydney while The Maccabees were on tour. I manage to catch him, two years later, midway through commentating on an IPL match. He has half an hour before he has to do the half-time show between innings.

Since his playing career, Brett has continued to pursue his love of music in forming Mewsic, a musical therapy charity in India, as well as continuing the fashion work that was a constant throughout his career and staying a prominent face and voice in the game through his commentary.

His sunny outlook on life since cricket and the opportunities it has afforded him feels as genuine as it is probably necessary in a survivalist sense, for someone with a playing career so filled with highs.

It is only briefly broken when I tell him of Andrew Flintoff's admission that he dreams of cricket most nights, to which he pauses and responds 'So do I mate, I think we all do'.

Brett Lee, interviewed by Felix White

I've been preparing for what I call 'stage two' of my life since I was 16. I've always had another job. I've worked in fashion for 20 years. I was working when I made the New South Wales team. I was still working while I was with Australia.

I actually worked about two days after we won the World Cup in 2003. I flew home and I was straight back on the floor selling suits. It gave my mind a rest away from sport. I didn't want to be this one-dimensional person in life. I didn't want to be known just as 'the fast bowler'.

Yes, that's been my job for 20 years but I would like to hope that I've got a lot more going for me than just being a fast bowler. Music, for me, is probably my first love. If someone would have said: 'Do you want to be in the biggest rock band in the world or wear the Baggy Green?' I'd have to think really hard about it.

Brett Lee strums a tune in 2004 // Getty
Brett Lee strums a tune in 2004 // Getty

I've always separated my life in that I'm a different person on the field than I am off it, so it's almost as if I've been a bit of an actor, and the acting bit is over now. For me the acting was about being the big aggressive fast bowler, going out there and having to bully everyone, being the aggressor. That's fine, that's the role I had to play. I enjoyed playing that role. Now I don't have to worry about ripping people's heads off.

I was on the cusp, every single ball, of getting injured. You rarely bowl within yourself, you rarely bowl at 80 per cent, you often have a niggle of some description. The biggest challenge for most fast bowlers across the world is against yourself.

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You're trying to get your body up for the challenge and then to get your mind right, saying to yourself, 'Alright, I'm in India and it's 48 degrees. I know I'm going to cover about 19 kilometres. I know there's going to be about 1,500 kilos going through my front foot every time I land. I'm going to do that for 30 overs a day…'

How do you tell your brain this is going to be fun? I certainly don't miss putting my body through it.

Lee celebrates the wicket of Rahul Dravid on the 2008 tour of India // Getty
Lee celebrates the wicket of Rahul Dravid on the 2008 tour of India // Getty

I've done so much since. I starred in an Australian Bollywood film. When they asked me, I laughed. It's being shown on a lot of different airlines around the world, it was shown in India for quite some time. I had got used to walking past a pub and seeing myself on the cricket highlights. That becomes the norm, you see yourself on the TV the whole time, certainly in India.

When you're walking down the aisle on an aeroplane and someone sitting three rows across from you is actually watching the movie, it's weird. You shield your face, get back in your seat as quick as you can. Cricket was much more of an assured landscape for me, and that assured landscape started when I was 9.

The stuff I'm doing over here in India is working for Star Sports. I want to go out and actually express myself over the microphone about this great game we all love and do it in a way that's relaxed and me. It's not fabricated, I say what I feel, I'm actually able to be open about how I feel about the game.

Lee has transitioned into commentary boxes after retirement // Getty
Lee has transitioned into commentary boxes after retirement // Getty

I wanted to give back to India because it's been wonderful to me. I didn't want to go down the cricket road, I love music and what it's done for my life, the way it makes me feel good in bad times. So I had a chat and I wanted to help with children in the slums and the dumping grounds, put them into a safe learning environment and teach them music therapy, hopefully to be the conduit between the slums and school education. We're not trying to be the next high school or secondary school, but we are hoping it will push them into further education. You've got to make it fun. You've got to give kids a chance, give them some instruments and have fun with it.

Of course it's hard for people that can't find things after. Hard for them to accept that they didn't make the next level. In terms of cricket, there are still things that I wanted to achieve that I didn't. I didn't manage to get a Test hundred. There are a million things you could say, 'Well, I wanted to achieve that and I didn't get the opportunity' but at the end of the day, I was content with what I did.

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To be on a hat-trick on the last ball of my career, people ask me what was I thinking, and to be honest mate, I was thinking, 'Thank god this is bloody over, I can't wait for stage two'. Obviously I wanted to get that hat-trick for us to win, and we all know what happened, we missed the run out and lost the game, and that's history. It's part of the game, it's the way it is. For a split second I was disappointed and then I thought, 'I'm happy, I'm content'. People say, 'Why did you take so long at the top of your mark?' I was thinking: 'I'm going to lap it up, because I'm never doing this again, you beauty'.

Brett Lee shaking after his final ball

This is part of Felix White's remarkable series 'When The Day Is Done' which explores the variously challenged lives of 11 former cricketers. The full feature is available in Issue 152 of All Out Cricket which you can buy here

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