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The King is dead. Long live the King!

Manan Shah | 2:56pm gmt 31 Jan 2008
FeaturesJaffer is on zero, facing only his fourth delivery of the innings. The other three deliveries have been close, and as Lee steams in with venom and verve, all Indian supporters have their heart in their mouth. The outcome seems to have been decided before either side have even walked onto the field. When did this happen? Amongst the drama and controversies surrounding the Test series, the emergence of Lee as a bona fide leader of the Australian attack has gone under the radar.

When McGrath and Warne retired, the Australian bowling seemed to be in disarray. Lee was capable of brilliance, but he was more often than not mediocre. He had the pace, but did not have the mind or the ability to outthink a set batsman. It was obvious right from the start of the series against Sri Lanka that he had worked on his fitness and his skills. To lead a bowling attack consistently, simple pace will rarely suffice. You need to be mentally strong, and be able to cope when things aren't going to plan.

During the India series, Lee was dominating but never dominated. No one really got on top of him, and on very flat and unresponsive pitches, you always felt that the next ball would be the one that takes the wicket. He took 24 wickets at an average of 22, and one feels that even those figures do him little justice. He bowled long hard spells without sacrificing speed or accuracy, and was consistently the person his captain relied on to keep the pressure and continue taking wickets.

It seems like heresy to say this, but that is exactly what McGrath did for Ponting, Waugh and Taylor for a decade and a half. When he was on, the Indian run rate halted, and the slips started becoming interested. The pitch never looked flat when balls were exploding off length and peppering the Indian batsmen.

But it was more than simply pace. His outswinger, bowled at more than 145kph, has become an extremely lethal weapon. The one to dismiss Jaffer in the first innings of the Sydney match was simply unplayable. Being faced with tight lines at express pace, none of the batsmen could find a way to score off him, and the fact that Lee could now bowl long spells without tiring simply meant India could never get off the ground running.

When Lee made his Test debut in December 1999 against India, people immediately recognized the talent. He rivaled Shoaib Akhtar in pace, and ran through the lineups. He got his fiftieth wicket in just his 11th Test, but the pace was already losing its novelty. As lineups prepared better for his pace, the effectiveness steadily decreased. He did not yet possess many weapons, and could only stay on for short bursts.

He started improving last year, with McGrath winding down, as more and more of the responsibility fell on his shoulders. However, except in various glimpses, he remained merely a 'good' bowler. After the injury that kept him out of the World Cup, he came back a different man. He is now at the top of the heap, and has seamlessly transitioned into the role of the experienced spearhead. He is in his 30s, and at an age where most fast bowlers are winding down, Lee is clearly in the best form of his life and has established himself as the best fast bowler in the world. Over the next year, as Australia get used to playing without the 1200 wicket combo of McGrath-Warne, there is a feeling that we are in for a treat. McGrath might be gone, but a new man has ascended to the throne.

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