A freak entry appeared on a scorecard on December 18, 1979, at Perth. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a dismissal that has etched its name in cricket quizzes all over the world for good.
The 1978-79 Ashes Test at the WACA is usually remembered for Dennis Lillee’s use of the aluminium bat on Day One. The series, a three-Test one, was not supposed to be called an Ashes, but an England-Australia series was destined to be a serious clash anyway.
Mike Brearley won the toss and put the hosts on a hard, bouncy track. Julien Wiener faced the first ball of the Test on his debut from another debutant, Graham Dilley; there have been many a laugh at Peter Willey and Wiener playing in the same Test as a lot of not-too-polite puns spread across the cricket fraternity.
Wiener’s run out and a three-wicket burst from Australia’s arch nemesis Ian Botham left Australia reeling at 88 for four; Peter Toohey became Dilley’s first Test wicket, and despite a dogged 99 from Kim Hughes (scored out of 166 scored during his stay) Australia collapsed for 244 early on Day Two in the hands of Botham, who picked up six for 78.
In the dying stages of Day One, however, Lillee caused a hold-up by using an aluminium bat: he faced four balls, all of which hit the bat with an audible clunk, and Brearley was forced to complain to umpires Max O’Connell and Donald Weser. This resulted in a conversation that had started the moment Lillee had entered the ground with the bat in his hand:
Greg Chappell (captain): Mate, get Dennis’s willow bat and at the end of the over go out and bring the aluminium bat back.
Rodney Hogg (12th man) looked apprehensive.
Chappell: What’s the problem?
Hogg: All I can see was me getting hit over the head with an aluminium bat in front of millions of people on television.
Meanwhile, Lillee hit a ball from Botham hard, but the ball rolled harmlessly back to the bowler.
Chappell: Hoggy, get out there and get the bloody thing back at the end of this over.
So Hogg ran out with the bat, and Lillee promptly informed him that he wanted his other piece of willow; he returned to the dressing-room to retrieve it himself.
Rodney Marsh (wicket-keeper, sitting calmly near the dressing-room): You are not going to let the umpires tell you what to do, are you?
Lillee threw the willow and resumed with his aluminium bat. Play was stopped again. Hogg refused to go out.
Chappell was left without an alternative; he carried the bat himself, and when he was still at a safe distance, the aluminium bat soared over his head. Chappell handed Lillee his piece of willow, calmly gathered the metallic abomination, and walked back.
Lillee, perhaps still furious, removed both openers for nought, and with Geoff Dymock removing Willey, the tourists were left reeling at 14 for three. There was some fight but things looked quite hopeless at 90 for six and then at 123 for seven.
Batting was never really Brearley’s strongest point, but here he added 62 with Dilley for the eighth wicket; the captain top-scored with 64 while Dilley remained unbeaten on a patient 38 in 157 minutes. Lillee picked up four wickets and Dymock three as Australia managed to acquire a slender 16-run lead.
Wiener and Bruce Laird gave Australia a solid start this time, adding 91 runs for the opening stand. With Allan Border and Chappell also coming good, Australia looked well on course at 168 for two, leading by 184.
It was occasions like this that Botham has always thrived on. Here, too, after Derek Underwood removed Chappell, Botham accounted for Hughes, Toohey, Marsh, and Ray Bright in a short burst. Lillee walked out to join Border.
The Western Australian fast bowlers showed immense discipline and determination as he helped Border put on 71 for the eighth wicket. Border reached his hundred but had to retire at 296 when on 109. Soon after Dymock walked out to join Lillee, however, something bizarre happened.
From the moment the news had got out that Dilley and Willey had both been included in the squad the commentators and connoisseurs had started contemplating whether there will be a Lillee c Willey b Dilley dismissal in the series (at this stage Willey was barely a bowler, so Lillee c Dilley b Willey had a lower probability).
As Dilley bowled a short one outside the off-stump Lillee tried to steer him through the already packed slip-cordon: all he could manage, however, was to fend it to Willey at gully.
The press-box was happy: this was a commentator’s delight! The dismissal was repeated time and again through the rest of the day, and the question “what freak scorecard entry happened for the only time in Test cricket in the Perth Test of 1979-80?” made its way to the quizzes.
The rest of the Test
Border resumed his innings after Lillee’s dismissal and eventually scored a well-compiled 115 before edging Bob Willis to Bob Taylor. Australia finished with 337: Botham had picked up five for 98 to return match figures of 11 for 176. England were up against an uphill, almost impossible task of scoring 354.
Though Geoff Boycott scored the second 99 — becoming the first player to carry his bat on that score (he still remains the only one) — of the Test the English did not stand a chance. Dymock picked up six for 34 and England lost by 138 runs.
Australia 244 (Kim Hughes 99, Rodney Marsh 42; Ian Botham 6 for 78) and 337 (Allan Border 115, Julien Wiener 58, Greg Chappell 43; Ian Botham 5 for 98, Derek Underwood 3 for 82) beat England 228 (Mike Brearley 64; Dennis Lillee 4 for 73, Geoff Dymock 3 for 52) and 215 (Geoff Boycott 99; Geoff Dymock 6 for 34) by 138 runs.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)