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Dennis Lillee: A career in numbers

Dennis Lillee is Australia's third-highest wicket-taker in Tests © Getty Images
Dennis Lillee is Australia’s third-highest wicket-taker in Tests © Getty Images

Dennis Lillee, born July 18, 1949, the snarling, ruthless, and determined pacer, undoubtedly belongs to the top echelons of fast bowlers in the history of the sport. Abhishek Mukherjee evaluates the legend in numbers.

Dennis Lillee terrorised batsmen; especially Englishmen. Dennis Lillee scythed through line-ups as easily as anyone did in history. Dennis Lillee had every arrow in his quiver. Dennis Lillee had walked out to bat with an aluminium bat. With Jeff Thomson, Dennis Lillee formed one of the most feared fast-bowling pairs in history. Dennis Lillee was the heart of controversies involving a gazillion people. Dennis Lillee wished Queen Elizabeth with the words “G’day Queen!”

Dennis Lillee was also a great study in numbers. Let us have a look.

Highest wicket-takers

Lillee currently languishes at joint 19th (with Daniel Vettori) on the all-time wicket-takers list with 355 Test scalps, but at the time of his retirement he was easily the leading wicket-taker in Test cricket. He was also the first bowler to reach the 350-wicket mark in Test cricket, and was 34 wickets clear of Bob Willis when he retired.

He was also the leading Australian wicket-taker by the proverbial mile, finishing 107 wickets ahead of Richie Benaud, the next name on the list. Thirty years after his retirement he still ranks third among Australians, albeit significantly behind Shane Warne (708) and Glenn McGrath (563).

There is a catch, though: along with many other greats, Lillee missed out on close three years of Test cricket (from March 1977 to November 1979). He was, of course, signed up by Kerry Packer for his World Series matches.

How did Lillee do in these matches? With 67 wickets at 26.87 (one must remember that the finest men played in the matches) from 14 “Tests”, Lillee was easily clear of the next man on the list, Andy Roberts (50 from 13 matches).

Where does Lillee stand if one adds the World Series Cup tally? Let us check.

  M W Ave SR
Muttiah Muralitharan

133

800

22.72

55.0

Shane Warne

145

708

25.41

57.4

Anil Kumble

132

619

29.65

65.9

Glenn McGrath

124

563

21.64

51.9

Courtney Walsh

132

519

24.44

57.8

Kapil Dev

131

434

29.64

63.9

Richard Hadlee

86

431

22.29

50.8

Dennis Lillee (including Packer)

84

422

24.39

51.2

Shaun Pollock

108

421

23.11

57.8

Wasim Akram

104

414

23.62

54.6

Harbhajan Singh

101

413

32.37

68.5

Curtly Ambrose

98

405

20.99

54.5

Lillee also played for Australia against a star-studded World XI in 1971-72. He finished with 24 wickets in four “Tests” at 20.08 and a near-absurd strike rate of 39.1. Intikhab Alam (19 wickets at 33.47 and a strike rate of 60.9) came next, but he had played all five “Tests.” Had those wickets been included the tally would have shot up to 446 wickets.

In the second of these Tests (at WACA, Lillee’s hometown) Australia posted 349 and were bowled out at stumps on Day One. What followed has been reminisced by Lillee as “the best hour of my career”. Lillee bowled unchanged for a spell equivalent to 9.3 six-ball overs; he finished with figures of 7.1-3-29-8 (including a burst of five wickets in nine balls).

Rest of World were bowled out for 59 after being 46 for four, but the session had not come to an end. Poor Farokh Engineer fell for four, thus falling to Lillee twice in the same session. The superheroes of world cricket had breathed a sigh of relief when the local hero disappeared into the dressing-room for lunch after nine wickets in the session.

Speed; in every way possible

Lillee was not among the fastest to the 50-wicket, 100-wicket, or 150-wicket Test wicket marks, but he caught up with the rest on the 200-wicket mark and onwards. Let us check.

Milestone

Fastest

Dennis Lillee

Bowler Tests Rank Tests
200 wickets Clarrie Grimmett

36

Joint 2nd (with Waqar Younis)

38

250 wickets Dennis Lillee

48

300 wickets Dennis Lillee

56

350 wickets Muttiah Muralitharan

66

4th

70

Ashes to Ashes…

Despite playing fewer matches than those three Ashes champions — Ian Botham, Warne, and McGrath, Lillee features quite high on the Ashes wicket-takers list, at the second place and a clear ten wickets ahead of McGrath.

M W Ave SR
Shane Warne

36

195

23.25

55.1

Dennis Lillee

29

167

21.00

50.9

Glenn McGrath

30

157

20.92

46.3

Ian Botham

36

148

27.65

57.2

Hugh Trumble

31

141

20.88

55.9

While Syd Barnes leads the way with the most five-wicket hauls in Ashes (12), Lillee comes second with 11 — a rank he shares with five other bowlers. Lillee also has four Ashes ten-wicket hauls, joint-highest with Fred Spofforth, Tom Richardson, and Warne.

The shorter format

They say the great Test players master the shorter formats, and Lillee was no exception. He finished with outstanding numbers of 103 ODI wickets from 63 matches at 20.82 and an economy rate of 3.58. He was the fastest to the 50-wicket mark (he reached there in 24 ODIs), though he has been relegated to the third spot. Ajantha Mendis, having reached the landmark in 19 ODIs, holds the current record.

Lillee was also the first to the 100-wicket mark, and was the highest wicket-taker in ODIs when he retired, 18 wickets ahead of Ian Botham. With figures of 12-2-34-5 against Pakistan at Headingley in World Cup 1975, Lillee became the first bowler to take an ODI five-for.

He ranks third in terms of average for bowlers with 100 ODI wickets

  M W Ave
Joel Garner

98

146

18.84

Ajantha Mendis

76

135

20.33

Dennis Lillee

63

103

20.82

Shane Bond

82

147

20.88

Michael Holding

102

142

21.36

and seventh in terms of economy rates.

  M W Econ
Joel Garner

98

146

3.09

Richard Hadlee

115

158

3.30

Michael Holding

102

142

3.32

Curtly Ambrose

176

225

3.48

Malcolm Marshall

136

157

3.53

Ewen Chatfield

114

140

3.57

Dennis Lillee

63

103

3.58

Lillee and Marsh

Finally, let us finish with a statistic known to everybody. It is common knowledge that Lillee and Rodney Marsh had formed the most potent bowler-’keeper combination in history; let us have a look at the top combinations.

Bowler Wicket-keeper M C C/M
Dennis Lillee Rodney Marsh

69

95

1.38

Glenn McGrath Adam Gilchrist

71

90

1.27

Makhaya Ntini Mark Boucher

96

84

0.88

Brett Lee Adam Gilchrist

65

81

1.25

Shaun Pollock Mark Boucher

88

79

0.90

Malcolm Marshall Jeff Dujon

68

71

1.04

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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