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Dennis Lillee

One of the greatest fast bowlers of all time, Dennis Lillee

One of the greatest fast bowlers of all time, Dennis Lillee was one of the key figures in the Australian set up in the 70s and early 80s. At a time when fast bowling was at its richest in the entire Cricket History, Lillee was the heart of Australia’s attack for more than a decade. He was the type of character whom captains could rely on to bowl ‘one more over’ at the end of long spell, and often gave breakthroughs when success seemed unlikely.

Lillee performed consistently against all terms and was considered to be the best fast bowler of the 70s and arguably the best of all-time. Lillee was known for his fiery temperament, ‘never-say-die’ attitude and popularity with the fans.

At the age of 20, Lillee made his first-class debut for Western Australia in 1969-70 and impressed everyone with his raw pace. When Lillee came on to the international scene, he bowled with frighten pace. Dennis made his Test debut in the 1970-71 Ashes Series at Adelaide, taking 5/84 from 28.3 over.

In December 1971, he announced himself in style with eight wickets against a World XI that included Sir Garry Sobers, Clive Lloyd and Sunil Gavaskar. With another fairy pacer, Jeff Thomson, he terrorized batsmen all over the world. The aggressive duo they became the most feared bowling pairing of the era and inflicted greatest damage on England batsmen.

Many believed his career was over after he broke down with spinal stress fractures on West Indies tour in 1972-73 seasons. However, Lillee made a famous recovery following a regime of intensive physiotherapy. He worked on his running technique and returned with an improved action that could be sustained for long duration without affecting his bowling. He lost some of the pace after returning from injury but continued to exploit batsmen’s weaknesses utilizing claver variations in length, pace and movement.

In 1974-75, he returned to Test cricket for the Ashes series, and took everyone by complete surprise in the first Test of the Ashes, when he bowled in full throttle. He was paired with Jeff Thomson to form one of the most effective openings bowling combination in Test cricket. His best Test figures were achieved in a remarkable match against the West Indies in 1981when he passed the world record for the most Test wicket held by Lance Gibbs.

Lillee’s career was packed with controversies too. In 1979, Lillee angered his own captain, Greg Chappell when he walked out to bat with a bat made of aluminium manufactured by a company owned by a friend. A furious Lillee was forced to change the bat when Chappell felt that the bat was costing his team useful runs and English captain complained to the umpire that the bat was damaging the ball.

Lillee played 132 innings in 70 Tests and took 355 wickets with 7/83 as his best bowling figure. He had a descent ODI career also, where in 63 matches he took 103 wickets.

He announced his retirement along with Greg Chappell in Sydney Test, where he took eight wickets, including a wicket with his last delivery in the match. He then played a significant role as the head of Cricket in Western Australia. He was also associated with MRF Pace Foundation in India for coaching fast bowlers.  

Lillee was one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year in 1973 and was inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame in 2009.