Mervyn Dillon: The man who took the baton from Walsh & Ambrose
Mervyn Dillon ended his career with 130 wickets in Tests and ODIs © Getty Images
Mervyn Dillon, born June 5, 1974, was a West Indian fast bowler who began his cricketing career as the incredible duo of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh approached twilight. Although not express, he did a fine job with his nagging length but left the scene achieving less than what he could have with the potential within. Karthik Parimal looks back at the career of the Trinidadian speedster.
The rich legacy of West Indian pace artillery is well-documented. From early 1970s to mid-1990s, tearaway speedsters of the finest quality were unearthed, each of them subtly different despite belonging to the same jeopardous class. Rarely did an opposition come out on top during the early years of the aforesaid period, but, with time, the intensity of this fearsome battery gradually reduced. This was when it slowly became evident that the West Indians weren’t invincible after all. Nevertheless, the towering presence of Curtly Ambrose and the guile of Courtney Walsh ensured that no team took West Indies lightly even during the later years. It could be said that these two were perhaps the last representatives of that fabulous era.
As Ambrose and Walsh approached the twilight of their careers, a lanky fast bowler by the name of Mervyn Dillon, with a nonchalant run-up, and a watch often strapped to his left hand, donned the whites to take over the mantle. Although he wasn’t gifted with the pace of his predecessors, Dillon proved to be handful with the leather and was at times compared to the crafty Walsh. With an action that angled the delivery in towards the batsman, he became a thorn in the flesh with his nagging line and the ability to make the ball hold its line after pitching earned him many wickets.
However, unlike Ambrose and Walsh, he couldn’t churn out match-winning performances on a consistent basis. After the duo retired, the responsibility of spearheading the West Indian attack was thrust on Dillon’s shoulders, but it’s safe to say that he couldn’t instil the kind of fear the earlier bowlers from his region did.
Mervyn Dillon… the West Indies pace spearhead post the Walsh-Ambrose era © Getty Images
An able competitor
It was in the March of 1997, against India at Trinidad — his hometown, that Dillon made his debut. On the one occasion that West Indies bowled during that Test, he returned a three-wicket haul and announced his arrival in noteworthy fashion. It’s the same opposition he’d torment four years later, taking 23 wickets from five Tests, thereby bowling West Indies to a series victory against all odds. In the final Test at Kingston, he played a major role in inflicting a 155-run defeat upon India as he registered figures of 5 for 71 — figures that eventually remained his best in Test cricket.
One year later, he was one of the protagonists in one of West Indies’ most famous victories over Australia. After Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer appeared to snatch away the game with a double-century stand, it took a Mervyn Dillon spell for the hosts to comeback. “Early on the third day with a 240-run lead and 10 wickets in the shed during our second innings, we were unbackable favourites. However, as Langer and Hayden were building another double-century opening partnership, the rest of us were all thinking the same thing we were caught daydreaming by an inspired spell from the West Indies’ most notable underachiever, Mervyn Dillon, a quick bowler who, when he had his act together, didn’t lose much in comparison to his legendary predecessors. Unfortunately for Dillon and his team, such days were a rarity,” recollects Steve Waugh in his autobiography Out of My Comfort Zone.
Indeed, such performances from Dillon were few and far between. When young blood began to come through, their repertoire put them a notch above and soon the former wouldn’t command the kind of authority he once did in the line-up. The likes of Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor inched ahead. When West Indies toured South Africa in the December of 2003, they won no games in either format, and in the first five Tests, Dillon averaged an appalling 89. Thereafter, for the upcoming series against England, he was duly dropped and never featured in the longer version of the game. He nonetheless did turn up in coloured flannels in the Champions Trophy and wrecked a fragile Bangladesh, taking five wickets for 29 runs, but was ruled out of the tournament owing to an injury post that.
He bid adieu to all forms of the game shortly after that, with 38 Tests and 108 One-Day Internationals in his pocket. He also collected 131 and 130 wickets respectively, but there is no denying the fact that he was capable of much more. He wasn’t lightning quick with the ball, but will be remembered for almost being struck by a lightning on a cricket field once. He came out unscathed.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal )