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Few would argue that Dennis Lillee, born July 18, 1949, was one of the finest fast bowlers in the history of cricket. However, not only was Lillee a ruthless fast bowler, he was also one of the most intriguing characters of the sport. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a unique personality, the kind of which has dried out from cricket.
Dennis Lillee was the first to the 350-wicket mark in Tests and the 100-wicket mark in One-Day Internationals (ODIs); he formed one of the most menacing bowling pairs with Jeff Thomson, terrorising batsmen all over the world with their pace and brutal aggression; he would also feature in nine out of ten all-time World XIs we have been making since our childhood days.
With the white shirt clinging to his torso, a moustache matched by few others, a run-up that sent a chill down the spine of the hapless batsmen, and pace like fire, Lillee was one of the characters that cricket in the 21st century craves for. Some of them led to controversies; some others were humorous; while some others were completely harmless. Let us have a look:
1) During his second Test at Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) (he had taken five on debut at Adelaide Oval), Lillee walked up to the Monty Noble Stand: he had spotted Keith Miller on the stands. He asked Miller for Ray Lindwall’s address: “He [Lindwall) might be able to teach me to bowl”.
2) Lillee had reached WACA for the second “Test” against Rest of World in 1971-72. He felt extremely weak after sending down a couple of overs, and went to Ian Chappell with a plea: “Want a break, skip”. Chappell and Graham McKenzie coaxed Lillee to bowl a third one. He went on bowling, and finished with his famous spell of eight for 29 when he had bowled out a power-packed Rest of World for 59 (and added another wicket in the same session).
3) Lillee was the ultimate perfectionist: on one occasion at Headingley he sent down a few wide balls, and while walking back to his bowling mark, he kept on telling himself: “Come on, Dennis. What is that, Dennis?”
4) Lillee went for Keith Fletcher in the famous 1974-75 Ashes. When Fletcher walked out to bat Lillee greeted him with the words “Good luck, Fletch. You’re going to need it,” and promptly hit Fletcher on his head with a searing bouncer. Another of his sledges was aimed at Mike Gatting: “Hey, Gatt [Mike Gatting], move out of the way, I can’t see the stumps.”
5) Lillee’s most famous sledge, however, was a perpetual one, used on numerous batsmen: “I know why you’re batting so badly. You’ve got some shit on the end of your bat.” When the batsmen had a closer look, Lillee promptly said, “Wrong end, mate.”
6) Trust Lillee to walk out with an aluminium bat during a Test. When Greg Chappell, annoyed by Mike Brearley’s complaints and the horrendous clunk of the leather hitting metal, asked Rodney Hogg to get Lillee to replace it, Hogg refused: “All I could see was me getting hit over the head with an aluminium bat in front of millions of people on television.” Chappell walked out with Lillee’s (wooden) bat, and saw the aluminium bat flying over his own head; he gave Lillee the willow, and calmly walked out with the aluminium bat.
7) Lillee was never on good terms with Kim Hughes. In fact, along with Greg Chappell and Rodney Marsh, Lillee had started a mutiny of sorts against Hughes. It came to an all-time low during the iconic 1981 Ashes tour. Before the final day of that Test at Headingley, Lillee and Marsh waged £5 each against Australia after Ladbrokes offered 500:1 odds.
8) It can, however, be debated whether the bet had to do with the anti-Hughes mindset. Lillee’s bouncers to Hughes in the nets certainly were not. He went on bouncing Hughes while he bowled a length to the others. The confrontation reached a nadir when Lillee apologised after bouncing on one occasion. When the amicable Hughes responded with “oh, that’s okay,” Lillee’s retort was spontaneous: “Sorry I didn’t f**king hit ya.”
9) The combat — or, rather, near-war — with Javed Miandad was possibly the most notorious on the list. The incident is well-documented, so it is probably not worth going into a detailed discussion. They still disagree on what had happened: while Miandad claims Lillee had kicked him, the fast bowler sticks to the fact that Miandad had struck him with the bat when they passed each other. The iconic photograph is Tony Crafter standing in the way, trying to protect Lillee from Miandad, who was brandishing his bat like a spear.
10) Lillee was fined A$200 for the incident. He was not happy. In a double-wicket contest at Eden Gardens in 1983, Lillee unleashed one of his famous bouncers at Miandad; the Pakistani tried to hook, missed the line, and was hit at the back of his head. Of course, Lillee apologised in the end.
11) Lillee hated the fact that his form was on the wane in the 1980s. On one occasion, on a boat trip, he apologised to Allan Lamb for “not causing him more trouble than he actually did” and kept on grumbling “I used to bowl better than that.”
12) Indian cricket fans would probably thank Lillee for sending back a diminutive youngster back from the MRF Pace Foundation. The aspiring fast bowler was too short for what he wanted to be, Lillee thought. A rejected Sachin Tendulkar went on to score a hundred international hundreds.
13) When the touring Pakistanis played an Australian Board Chairman’s XI at Perth, a 50-year old Lillee opened bowling with his son Adam; while Dennis finished with 8-4-8-3, Adam’s figures read 6-0-29-3. Pakistanis were reduced to 24 for five and lost the match. Adam also caught Ghulam Ali off Dennis.
14) Lillee featured in at least two songs:
a) No Restrictions by Men at Work. The song had the line “Hear the cricket calling, switch on the TV, sit and stare for hours, and cheer Dennis Lillee.”
b) Blue Guitar by Iain Campbell Smith, which had the line “I hit a six off Dennis Lillee and I clean bowled Gavaskar.” When performing in USA, however, Smith replaced it with the line with “I scored thirty-seven points off of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.”
15) Finally, let us round off things with a rendezvous with Royalty. When the Australian team met Queen Elizabeth at Lord’s, Lillee came up with a somewhat non-trivial greeting: “G’day Queen!”
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