Menacingly Fast: Dennis Lillee
A fast bowling legend who shaped the way balls are bowled
Lillee was an impact player, macho and charismatic yet lethal. He made his debut in 1971 against England but succumbed to stress fracture in his lower vertebrae in 1972/73. Being a champion that he was, Lillee bounced back and began one of the most feared bowling partnership with Jeff Thompson. Such was their impact that The Sunday Telegraph ran a photo of Lillee and Thomson with a cartoon caption underneath that read:“Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust, if Thomson don't get ya, Lillee must.”
He had the best bowling action consisting of long run-up, huge strides, open-chest and sideways delivery. His bouncers were lethal and fast pace would terrify most of the batsmen so much that they would succumb much before facing him. His duel with Vivian Richards is chronicled in cricketing folklore. One such duel which I remember was his over in 1976 at Perth. The first 3 bowls were bouncers for which Umpire warned him. Richard had a hard time surviving them. Fourth bowl was played defensively by Richards. Next ball came back so sharply that he got clean-bowled.
Lillee was the 'Bad-Boy' of cricket. He would pick up fight with opposition and often that would manifest in his aggressive bowling. One such fight happened between him and Gavaskar in 1980 at MCG. He bowled an in-cutter which hit Gavaskar's pads. He was adjudged LBW, but Sunny insisted that bowl had hit his pad first. Lillee started fighting and told Sunny to leave the pitch. As he walked towards the pavilion, Lillee hurled some abuses at Sunny. Gavaskar got angry and asked his mate Chetan Chauhan to walk off of the field. It took an entire Indian cricket team and management to resolve the crisis.
Lillee played 70 Tests and took 355 wickets at an average of 23.92. Lillee was also famous for his partnership with wicket-keeper Rod Marsh. The scorecard entry 'c Marsh b Lillee' appeared 95 times in Tests, a partnership record between wicket-keeper and bowler that is yet to be broken. K. Srikanth considers Lillee as his idol "Lillee could send the ball at a frightening speed, yet the control, consistency, and discipline in his bowling were exemplary. He seldom let the batsmen breathe easy". Imran Khan places Lillee as the best bowler of his generation and exclaims "I thought very highly of his single-minded attitude, he was always attacking, and trying to think of ways to get the batsman out."
Lillee was a quirky sportsman. During a Test at the WACA Ground in December 1979 between Australia and England, Lillee went to the crease with an aluminium bat manufactured by a company owned by his friend. This created furore in international cricket and he was severely criticized. Lillee was also known for his fiery temperament, 'never-say-die' attitude and popularity with the fans.
Lillee was like an artist - crazy, quirky, lunatic, but brilliant. On the field, he was a fierce competitor, but a nice man off-the-field. He championed the cause of fast bowling in India and led 'MRF Pace Foundation" in Chennai. For Richard Hadlee, it was a case of WWLD: "When things are going badly I often think, 'What would Lillee do?' And the answer is: 'He would not give up'." Arunabha Sengupta writes in one of his article "The thick mane has gone to reveal a balding head, and the moustache has become grey with the passage of time. Yet the face of menace is recognisable still, through the many inundations of age, and it harks back memories of supremely skilled, intimidatory fast bowling at its absolute best."