Twenty five years after one of the most feared pace bowler in the sport founded it, the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai is all set to enter into a new phase, aspiring to carry forward the good work it has put in. Dennis Lillee founded, shaped and transformed India’s first university that has been giving out talented pace bowlers to Indian cricket. This was the dream of the former MRF Chairman and Managing Director Vinoo Mammen, to ensure that Indian cricket too should have pace bowling attack, especially so after the famed spin quartet of E A S Prasanna, B S Bedi, B S Chandrasehar and S Venkataraghavan faded out. And when Lillee was approached, the Aussie pacer had his own doubts whether this dream could be turned into reality. Why, because Indian conditions and the tradition of its cricket never made it posible for genuine pace bowlers to emerge, and the pitches always “rolled out” specially for spinners, were the biggest hurdle for true pace bowlers to grace the team.
Lillee nevertheless, took up the challenge. A play field in one of the famous schools in Chennai that encourages sports, was taken. Lillee picked boys aspiring to be fast bowlers from different schools in the country and shortlisted them to 14 trainees. He didn’t give up even though the progress was slow and media doled out cynicism towards the ‘seemingly’ impossible task. Results started showing gradualy with one or two making it to Team India. Then to raise the fitness levels of his trainees, Lillee started adding the correct infrastructure at the foundation, most importantly a modern gym and a swimming pool. Then the results started flowing, the likes of Javagal Srinath, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, S Sreesanth and Munaf Patel donned Indian colours and became the modern day pace sensations in Indian cricket. And the foundation turned international as it signed MoU with Australian Cricket Acedemy, and various cricket boards. The likes of Glenn McGrath and Bret Lee also owed their success to their training with Lillee at the MRF Pacer Foundation.
And now his job and mission completed, Lillee earlier this month handed over the baton to Glenn McGrath, who feels he is honoured to assume charge as Director. He said his job at the Foundation would give him the right opportunity to make a comeback to cricket, giving to the sport something back. While Lilee said he had to surmount a big challenge in finding real pace bowlers for Indian cricket, McGrath said it would even be a tougher task for him to keep the numbers growing. But cricket would not be exciting at all without fast bowlers. Like Lillee who was assisted by former India pacer from Tamil Nadu T A Sekhar, McGrath will be helped along in his task by former Tamil Nadu all rounder M Senthilnathan. Can one say ‘Jai Ho’ to McGrath in his new role as coach, which he said while taking over from Lillee, he loves. Like his predecessor, McGrath will also be making periodic visits to the Foundation to assess the 14 trainees and coach them.