Dubai, June 4: Former Australia speedster Brett Lee in a candid chat about Test cricket and the upcoming ICC World Test Championship 2021 final between India and New Zealand has said that the contest is even but Kiwis might have slight edge.
Would you please share with us your favourite Test memory…?
My favourite Test match has to be my Test debut in 1999 at the MCG; Boxing Day Test against a very formidable Indian team, and then bowling to Sachin Tendulkar. It had everything that I had dreamed of and more! But my favourite Test memory was the Test series of 2005 with England.
When I think about it, the second Test of the series at Edgbaston where Australia lost by two runs has to be up there as one of my favourites. I was out there in the middle with Michael Kasprowicz.
Even though Australia lost, just the way the game was played. The fashion in which both teams performed. They were so competitive, yet so respectful with each other off the field. The way that the crowd was involved, everything was on the line. It was an amazing series. Well, a lot of people say, how come you pick a series where you lost? And I can say that it is the way you play. You do not have to win a game of cricket always to enjoy it. As long as you give it your best and England were too good for us at the time on that day.
Who is your favourite Test batter and why?
My favourite Test batters from the time that I was playing would be Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara. Brian Lara was simply so flamboyant.
You could bowl six balls to him in the exact same area, let us say at the top of the off stump, if I aimed at that spot for six consecutive deliveries, someone like a Brian Lara would hit me down the ground, he could work me behind square, he could cut me behind by a point, he could drive through the covers, he could hit me straight down the ground to the offside.
He is so unpredictable, whereas you look at a guy like Sachin Tendulkar, if I bowl a full edge side off stump, then I knew he could hit me through extra cover, or if I bowled straight through the off stump, he would cut me down the ground through mid-off. If I bowl on leg stump, he would hit me through the wicket, if I bowled short, he would either cut or pull me.
So, both were technically great batsmen I have played against. With Sachin, you knew where the ball was going to go, but you had to sop the ball. He had an amazing cricket technique, a great temperament, and a brilliant cricket brain. When you look at the recent greats, it is hard to look past Virat Kohli. What an incredible record he has got. He is only getting better with age. He has got a great mindset, a great cricket brain as well.
Who is your favourite Test bowler and why?
Well, my favourite bowler at the moment is probably Pat Cummins. And you might think that I am biased being an Aussie or because he was a former teammate of mine, but what I will say about Pat Cummins is that he is absolute quality. I mean, the skills he has got. He has got a great technique. He has got a wonderful bag of tricks up the sleeve. And he is the guy that I think that is earmarked to be a future Australian captain, whether or not that happens. I mean, that is just great to be sort of spoken about in that context. But to me, he is a guy that challenges the bat more often than most bowlers I see around the world.
Look at guys like Jasprit Bumrah. Incredible, he can take wickets consistently. But probably my favourite one at the moment would have to be Pat Cummins.
WTC final is one of its kind, a standalone Test match with such high consequence. Do you think this unique circumstance is going to impact how the teams prepare for the challenge? Because they are also playing on a neutral ground?
Yeah, well, look, it is going to be. Firstly, it is great to see the actual format, as you mentioned before about the World Cups, and there is a big prize of winning a, 50 over World Cup or a T20, whichever you want to call it, but there is nothing for a Test match, you might get the number one Test ranking, which is great. But this is an opportunity now to find out, which is going to be the best team currently around the world and it is a great opportunity.
It is a neutral venue with no home advantage, so, when you think about who has got a chance of winning, you have got to say, I think it comes down to bowlers, I think the batsmen will generally be okay on the surface, but if they bowl well, whichever side bowls well, I think they will have the biggest impact.
Do you think the fast-bowling talent around the world is as strong as it has ever been? I mean, you spoke about Cummins earlier, from New Zealand there’s Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Kylie Jamieson, India’s Bumrah – you think it is the best that it has ever been?
In terms of collectively from all teams, I mean, looking at the ones that we have not even mentioned, when you mentioned Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, I love. I think he is a great bowler. If you look at England, then you think about Broad and Anderson, I mean, they are world-class.
Jimmy Anderson has got over 600 Test wickets; Stuart Broad is not too far behind him. Archer who has just gone in for operation from what I hear, I mean, he is quality as well. What I want to see though is to see guys go over 150 kms more consistently. So, we have got semi-good bowlers here that can get to 150 and above, but I want to see them do that more consistently because I believe that is a benchmark for genuine fast bowling.
Who do you think holds the edge between the two playing teams India, New Zealand?
Well, it is a tough one, you would have to see which bowlers can produce on this surface. And when you spoke about the Indian Test line-up, that will be on show; they have got some amazing talent as do the Kiwis. So, I think it is pretty evenly matched there.
I am thinking though with the experience of New Zealand because they have bowled in conditions which are similar back home, you talk about the ball moving around, you talk about something in the wicket, there will be a bit of something, it may be conducive to fast bowling, to swing bowling. So that is where I think that the Kiwis might have an advantage purely from that fact.
Now from a batting point of view, both sides have got batsmen that can play against swing bowling. But I think it comes down to bowling. I think whichever team bowls best will win the Test match final.
Can you tell us more about the Duke ball, how it behaves in England? And is it going to impact the game in any way?
Yeah, look, what we know about the Duke ball is that it talks. And what I mean by that, is that it moves around, there is an expression the fast bowlers use, that makes the ball talk, make the ball do something, not just go straight up and down.
Now, we know that when you go to England when you bowl with the duke ball, that is what happens, the ball does swing around. So, it can be, as I mentioned before, guys that have bowled with the duke ball and have some good experience of bowling in swinging conditions like New Zealand, may be better suited to bowling with the duke ball. Because if you do not quite get the ball right, if you do not get the seam position correct, then the ball cannot swing around. And that is where you bowl a lot of wides and extras. We all know that if you play in England, and you do not quite get the right areas and you can go for a lot of runs. And batsmen from both teams will be looking to pounce on loose balls.
I think of Kane Williamson I think of Virat Kohli, so, if you do not get it right to those two batsmen from straightaway, you are going to get hurt. So, it is all well and good for the ball to swing around. But if you do not control it, then you are not going to be successful.
What about the Hampshire Bowl as a venue?
I think that it will be a venue that will offer a lot from a pitching perspective, it is not a super-fast wicket. I think there will be enough there for the bowlers. But I just hope it is a nice playing surface, I think that that is what they will provide.
The Kiwis have had this amazing luck with an International Trophy they have been so close so many times. What do you think, is the motivating factor that the team might have to just make it this time? What do you think is going on in the camp right now?
Yeah, it is funny when journalists say that, and you hear commentators say it too. They just have to know and understand that these are the issues, but it is how they deal with it. I think it is very important that a lot of these teams can get through that mindset. If you have not been able to lift that trophy, and you have not won that series, or you have not won that World Cup, you have come so close, it can play on your mind. I think for someone like New Zealand and Kane Williamson, they have just got to believe in themselves. And believe in their defence in terms of their batters, their top five, and believe that they can win it. So, I think this has probably been the best opportunity. I think they’ve got a great side, and they are playing in conditions that might suit them. But there is a lot on the line.
Virat has always emphasized the importance of Test cricket, he has never won an ICC trophy or a championship? So, this will be his first time if he does win. How driven do you think he is to win?
Both captains would want to raise a trophy at the end. In terms of the Indian skipper, Kohli, he is such a dynamic player, such a great influencer for the team, world-class batter. We know that that’s a given. But I think that with his emphasis on how important Test cricket is to him, and his team, and his nation, it is going to weigh in very heavily on him and that will improve his performance. We know that Kohli steps up on the big occasions.
And, as you mentioned, he wants to see his side be the first winners of the ICC World Test Championship. It means a lot to him. And I think that will be the talk. Once everything is said and done, once the preparations are done, when they arrive there when the quarantine is done, just before they walk out, I think that will be the last comment – Let us enjoy it but let us become the first side to ever to win this ICC World Test Championship!
What do you think about the two different styles of captaincy that you see between Kane and Virat?
Yeah, they are different. Kane is a lot more conservative without being boring. He has got a great cricket brain. I spent a fair bit of time with Kane recently and enjoy his company. I think he has got a wonderful cricket brain. I admire his level of calmness. And that is why I said that he is not a boring captain. He is a conservative captain, but attacks when he needs to. And he attacks when he feels it is right. Because he is patient, and it works for him and his team.
Look at the other side of the ledger, and you look at Kohli, he is more of an aggressive captain. There is no right or wrong answer to any of these because I have played under captains who are conservative and captains who are too aggressive. But this is going to be a great opportunity to see which one comes out on top because they are different. At the end of the day, they are two amazing cricket brains. And that is what I respect. So yeah, it is going to be exciting to see who comes out on top!
Boult & Bumrah are teammates at Mumbai Indians. Can that camaraderie dilute rivalry? Also, can it help one understand the other’s bowling secrets better?
Look, I think the friendship will be there. But after they step out over the rope and before they step on the field it will be different. When you get out there, it is war. It is a battle, and you are playing for your country. That will not change.
I think that is with Boult and Bumrah, they know each other so well, they know each other’s strengths, but they also know each other’s weaknesses. So, I think that sort of counterbalances what might be a situation where it could help or hinder someone. I think it is great for world cricket, that you look at these two wonderful players, and they are world-class, Boult hoops a ball back in 140 Ks. Jasprit Bumrah can make that duke ball swing around corners. They will be very mindful of what each person can bring to the table. And I am sure after the game, there will be a few hugs as well!
What do you think is the future of Test cricket?
I have got no doubt that it will be successful. I have got no doubt that people will want to be able to compete for the ICC World Test Championship. I mean, it has got a nice ring to it. We compete for a World Cup when it comes to T20, 50-over cricket, why not Test cricket? Do not just go on, winning different stats, let us put the two best teams up against each other in a precious situation and see which one comes out on top. I think it has got a lot of merits.