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Dennis Lillee

by Saurabh Sharma Sep 22, 2017 • 21:50 PM

At a time when fast bowling was at its richest in the entire cricket history, Dennis Lillee was the man everyone looked up to. Considered to be the most complete fast bowler, Lillee was one of the key figures in the Australian set up in the 70s and early 80s. He began as a tear away quick bowler with a classical side-on action and a long run up in the early part of his career but a number of stress fractures in his back almost ended his career. A very popular figure in fans, Lillee was known for his fiery temperament and  'never-say-die' attitude.

Taking on a strict fitness regime, he fought his way back to full fitness, eventually returning to international cricket. By the time of his retirement from international cricket in 1984 he had become the then world record holder for most Test wickets (355), and had firmly established himself as one of the most recognizable and renowned Australian sportsmen of all time.

Dennis Keith Lillee was born at Subiaco, Perth, on July 18, 1949, and, after attending Belmay Primary School and Belmont Secondary School, he began playing with the Perth Cricket Club at a young age of 15. Four years later, he made his debut against Queensland at Brisbane, capturing the wicket of the Australian Test opening batsman, Sam Trimble, as his first victim in first-class cricket. It was a moderate debut by the then slimly-built West Australian but, from that point on, he showed his true character and went off to become one of the most potent new-ball pairs along with Jeff Thompson.

Lillee appeared on the scene when Australian fast bowling was in the doldrums following the retirement of Graham McKenzie. He first played for Western Australia in 1969 and though relatively raw and erratic, Lillee had the ability to generate alarming pace. Within a year he had headed the averages for an Australian B team in New Zealand. Subsequently he was picked for Australia in the sixth test against England at Adelaide in 1971. He made the most of this opportunity by taking 5 for 84, confirming the emergence of a top-quality paceman.

In 1971–72 against a World XI at Perth, he destroyed a powerful batting lineup that included Garry Sobers, Clive Lloyd, Rohan Kanhai and Sunil Gavaskar by taking 8/29 and on his first tour of England in 1972 set an Ashes series record for an Australian bowler by capturing 31 wickets.

Lillee's test future seemed assured, but against Pakistan at Melbourne in 1973 he hurt his back. Initially the injury responded to treatment and he was selected for the West Indies tour later that year. However, he broke down in the first test with what was later diagnosed as a stress fracture of the lumbar vertebrae.

There was speculation that his bowling career was nearly over. Lillee persevered, undergoing an intensive physiotherapy routine, formulated by sports scientist Frank Pyke, and remodeled his bowling action. In 1974–75, he returned to Test cricket for the Ashes series and was paired with New South Wales fast bowler Jeff Thomson to form one of the most effective opening bowling combinations in Test cricket. The pair was a major factor in Australia's emphatic 4–1 victory. In 1975, the University of Western Australia timed Lillee's bowling at 154.8 km/h.

The injury did not prove to be a hindrance for Lillee and the post-injury period became the most successful phase of his career as he picked up 120 wickets in just 21 matches with eight five-wicket and three ten-wicket hauls.

Lillee toured England again in 1975. During the inaugural World Cup he captured eight wickets in five matches, including 5/34 against Pakistan at Leeds. His aggressive bowling was not always suited to the run-containing style required in the one-day game. In the subsequent four-Test series against England, Lillee claimed 21 wickets as his team finished winners by 1–0. With the bat, he made 73 not out at Lord's to rescue Australia from a difficult situation.

Another 27 wickets (at 26.37 average) followed in the summer of 1975–76 against the West Indies. At this time, Lillee was one of the most marketable personalities in Australia, but he was frustrated by the small amounts that he earned from the game. Outspoken in his opinions, he came into conflict with the game's administrators. Lillee suggested that a made-for-television exhibition series could be played each season with profits given to the players. John Cornell, his manager, took this idea to Kerry Packer, who later fashioned it into World Series Cricket (WSC).

An injury to Thomson early in 1976–77 forced Lillee to take on a greater workload during the six Tests of the season. He responded with 47 wickets including match figures of 10/135 against Pakistan at the MCG and 11/123 at Auckland against New Zealand. In the Centenary Test, his 11/165 was the decisive performance in Australia's victory. However, the extra exertion created "hot spots" in his back and not wanting to aggravate his previous condition, he made himself unavailable for the 1977 tour of England.

Cutting down on his pace and the length of his run up, Lillee gradually concentrated on moving the ball off the seam with an occasional faster or slower ball for variation. During the season of his return to official cricket, Lillee collected 35 Test wickets in six matches against the West Indies and England, and gave Australia's bowling attack stability while the selectors experimented with the team. In the World Series Cup, his changed style helped to bring him 20 wickets (at 12.7 average) in eight ODIs, including 4/12 against West Indies and 4/28 against England, both at the SCG. However, the tour of Pakistan that followed was ruined for Lillee by flat batting pitches prepared by local curators to blunt his effectiveness. He managed just three wickets in three Tests.

In 1981–82, Lillee's season got off to a poor start when he was involved in the infamous incident with Javed Miandad in the first Test of the summer where both came to clashes on the ground and was suspended for two ODI’s. However, he continued taking wickets taking 15 in three Tests against Pakistan and 16 in three Tests against the West Indies. Against the latter, his 7/83 and 3/44 at the MCG in the first Test took him past the world record for the most Test wickets held by Lance Gibbs.

Bowling as a first-change, Lillee had an uneventful tour of New Zealand in March and April 1982 before suffering a serious knee injury in the first Ashes Test at the WACA Ground in November of the same year. This forced him to miss the rest of the series and eventually lost the spark that characterized his aggressive bowling. None the less, during the series of 1983–84 against Pakistan at Perth Lillee finished with 20 wickets at 31.65. Along with Greg Chappell he announced his retirement during the final Test at Sydney, and took eight wickets, including a wicket with his last delivery in the match.

 

The injury did not prove to be a hindrance for Lillee and the post-injury period became the most successful phase of his career as he picked up 120 wickets in just 21 matches with eight five-wicket and three ten-wicket hauls.

Lillee toured England again in 1975. During the inaugural World Cup he captured eight wickets in five matches, including 5/34 against Pakistan at Leeds. His aggressive bowling was not always suited to the run-containing style required in the one-day game. In the subsequent four-Test series against England, Lillee claimed 21 wickets as his team finished winners by 1–0. With the bat, he made 73 not out at Lord's to rescue Australia from a difficult situation.

Another 27 wickets (at 26.37 average) followed in the summer of 1975–76 against the West Indies. At this time, Lillee was one of the most marketable personalities in Australia, but he was frustrated by the small amounts that he earned from the game. Outspoken in his opinions, he came into conflict with the game's administrators. Lillee suggested that a made-for-television exhibition series could be played each season with profits given to the players. John Cornell, his manager, took this idea to Kerry Packer, who later fashioned it into World Series Cricket (WSC).

An injury to Thomson early in 1976–77 forced Lillee to take on a greater workload during the six Tests of the season. He responded with 47 wickets including match figures of 10/135 against Pakistan at the MCG and 11/123 at Auckland against New Zealand. In the Centenary Test, his 11/165 was the decisive performance in Australia's victory. However, the extra exertion created "hot spots" in his back and not wanting to aggravate his previous condition, he made himself unavailable for the 1977 tour of England.

Cutting down on his pace and the length of his run up, Lillee gradually concentrated on moving the ball off the seam with an occasional faster or slower ball for variation. During the season of his return to official cricket, Lillee collected 35 Test wickets in six matches against the West Indies and England, and gave Australia's bowling attack stability while the selectors experimented with the team. In the World Series Cup, his changed style helped to bring him 20 wickets (at 12.7 average) in eight ODIs, including 4/12 against West Indies and 4/28 against England, both at the SCG. However, the tour of Pakistan that followed was ruined for Lillee by flat batting pitches prepared by local curators to blunt his effectiveness. He managed just three wickets in three Tests.

In 1981–82, Lillee's season got off to a poor start when he was involved in the infamous incident with Javed Miandad in the first Test of the summer where both came to clashes on the ground and was suspended for two ODI’s. However, he continued taking wickets taking 15 in three Tests against Pakistan and 16 in three Tests against the West Indies. Against the latter, his 7/83 and 3/44 at the MCG in the first Test took him past the world record for the most Test wickets held by Lance Gibbs.

Bowling as a first-change, Lillee had an uneventful tour of New Zealand in March and April 1982 before suffering a serious knee injury in the first Ashes Test at the WACA Ground in November of the same year. This forced him to miss the rest of the series and eventually lost the spark that characterized his aggressive bowling. None the less, during the series of 1983–84 against Pakistan at Perth Lillee finished with 20 wickets at 31.65. Along with Greg Chappell he announced his retirement during the final Test at Sydney, and took eight wickets, including a wicket with his last delivery in the match.

 

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