Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, Perth, 3rd day December 2, 2012

Lillee not a fan of resting bowlers

Australia's bowling stocks lack a definite spearhead, according to Dennis Lillee, a go-to fast bowler that can move up a gear to break open the game

Oh, for a Dennis Lillee. As Australia's third-string attack sweltered in the Perth heat on Sunday, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus were on their enforced holiday, both working towards the aim of returning refreshed for the first Test against Sri Lanka. Would they have performed any better than Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson and John Hastings, who eventually dismissed South Africa for 569? We will never know. Their bowling workload was deemed too heavy in Adelaide for the selectors to risk them at the WACA.

Siddle sent down 383 deliveries at Adelaide Oval, Hilfenhaus 321. The three-day break between matches was not considered adequate. But reflect on the workload of Lillee, one of the finest fast bowlers the game has seen. In December 1976, he bowled a phenomenal 535 deliveries against Pakistan, also at Adelaide Oval, the greatest workload a genuinely fast bowler has endured in the modern era. After a two-day break he was back in action for the next Test and took 10 for 135.

Lillee, now the president of the WACA, was at the venue on Saturday and Sunday, watching Hastings, Starc and Johnson toil. On Saturday night, he and some of his colleagues got together for a few drinks and talk turned towards Australia's resting of fast bowlers. Ian Chappell, who captained Lillee in 20 Tests, wondered what reaction he would have received had he asked his strike fast man to sit out of an important match.

"You couldn't have convinced me," Lillee said on Sunday. "[Last night] Ian said, 'I can just imagine me trying to say to you you're not playing the next Test, I'd have to duck real quick wouldn't I?' My theory was never give a sucker an even break. That was just me. I used to think if someone else gets a game and he gets five-for, you've got to get back in the side."

Although it is difficult to imagine a side featuring Lillee being mauled and milked for runs the way the Australians were over the past two days, there were times during his career when the opposition batsmen made him earn his keep. But there were only six occasions during his 70 Tests when the opposing team piled on 500-plus totals, and while he sympathised with Australia's attack at the WACA, he noted that the lack of a distinct spearhead was a problem.

"I think they bowled pretty well and they had an opportunity there to knock South Africa over for 140-odd [in the first innings]," Lillee said. "I don't think they grabbed that, they [South Africa] batted well as well. But I think that attack is a pretty good attack. You've got to weigh it up and say the guys who had a three-day break, would they have bowled any better? There's talk about them being tired and whatever. Would they have bowled any better? Who knows.

"Great bowling attacks, let's look at [Dale] Steyn, there's a go-to man. The go-to man is the man that can break it open and is the man that when it gets a bit tough and you can't get a breakthrough, you go to that guy and he often comes through. I guess this attack at the moment, you probably can't say that there's a go-to man. I'm not being unfair on them but I just think that they're all around that 135-140 mark and there's not someone like a Steyn who can go up a gear and down a gear. All good attacks have that one go-to person."

In the end, Starc picked up six wickets and Johnson collected four, but by then South Africa had all but batted Australia out of the match. Neither man was in Australia's starting attack at the beginning of the summer, and with Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Ryan Harris all sidelined by injury, the group being used at the WACA was realistically not even Australia's second-string attack. When all the bowlers are fit, Pattinson is the one Lillee believes can best spearhead the attack.

"Pattinson looks a very, very good prospect to me," Lillee said. "If he can stay fit and stay on the park then he looks a bloody good bowler to me."

The problem for Pattinson, as for the rest of Australia's fast bowlers, is staying on the park. Do they train too little? Do they play too much? Are their recovery methods right? Lillee had no definitive answers, but noted that his modus operandi was never to bowl in the nets for less than an hour at a time, and to go for a five- to six-kilometre run at least once a fortnight. He also conceded that the amount of cricket played these days made the balancing act tougher.

But you can bet he wouldn't have been rested after bowling 321 balls in a Test.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • chris on December 5, 2012, 9:31 GMT

    i think hilfanhous could of played as he doesnt put the strain on his body that siddle does and i think we needed a right hand swing bowler in perth,but even then at the end of the day the south africans were the better side when it counted so hindsight is a wonderful thing and someone made a good point that no matter who is bowling you have to pitch the ball up at the waca ie steyn and philander.

  • Philip on December 4, 2012, 20:14 GMT

    Yes, both Lillee and Thomson suffered injuries. However, in the last thirty-plus years (geez, has it been that long?) you'd think the management of bowling injuries, workloads and training programs should have progressed more than they appear to have.

  • Michael on December 4, 2012, 14:07 GMT

    More on Dennis Lillee: He played 70 of the 93 Tests he could possibly have played between 1971 and 1984. He was never dropped so obviously missed a fair bit of cricket through injury. Not indestructible, but still the greatest fast bowler who ever lived.

  • Michael on December 4, 2012, 13:38 GMT

    Didn't Dennis Lillee miss the 1977 Ashes tour of England because stress fractures has re-opened in his back? Lillee played all six Test matches in which Australia was involved in 1976/77, bowling a considerable number of overs. Perhaps he could have benefited from being rested at some point and possibly not missed the subsequent Ashes tour. Any thoughts?

  • Dale on December 3, 2012, 20:59 GMT

    Call me crazy but wasn't Lilllee perennially sidelined from injury? I had no problem with the rotation. Siddle was exhausted and Hilfenhaus was doing very little with the ball anyway. I thought Johnson bowled well, not his best but still much more consistent than in the past. Starc learned a hard lesson and Hastings didn't do much at all. SA batted extremely well, but i think the bowlers needed to learn from Steyn and Philander and pitch the ball up. Far too many balls being pitched short of a good length at the WACA

  • Mark on December 3, 2012, 20:51 GMT

    @Mark Skully - the selectors logic is sound, yours is seriously flawed. Resting them for 1 test, they miss 1 test. They get injured and they are usually gone for at least 2. Often more. Cummins was out for a year. Pattinson is gone for the season. Brett Lee had several injuries that put him out for a season. Watson missed 2 matches and only half bowled in the 3rd. If the selectors believe that playing a certain player will result in an injury, why risk it?

  • Brett on December 3, 2012, 20:47 GMT

    Gilly4ever - if you seriously think that Siddle is not in the top 4 pace bowlers in Australia you must be watching something different to me. I would be interested then in who you actually think the top 4 bowlers are then

  • Philip on December 3, 2012, 20:42 GMT

    The end of this test is business as usual for Australia. The two Mitchells, Johnson and Starc, got consolation wickets and catches and consolation wickets and runs respectively, so will play another day. Wade played the sort of shot that Haddin's been criticised for, so will be there for years. Watson will continue to not bowl enough to justify his high-quality all-rounder status. Warner's batting will probably have a feast-and-famine approach. Lyon will probably bowl too fast unless given the nod to relax about his selection. Michael Hussey will not retire and the team will go on winning enough to be a mid-ranked test side. But number one in the world was always out of reach. Fellow Australians, let us not kid ourselves about that. The glory days of the last two decades are but an ever-diminishing memory. Australia must rebuild from the ground up, at grade and state levels first, before the national team can have the depth that characterised those glory years.

  • Prasanna on December 3, 2012, 16:06 GMT

    Alright - so another wonderful chance to upstage a strong team goes by without taken. And how long are we gonna continue with the habit of not being able to finish things off ? It happened in Melbourne 08, Perth 08, Cardiff 09, Mohali '10, , Adelaide '12 , Perth '12 . What is the problem that ails us ? Can't our so-called fast bowlers bowl 140K+ yorkers to tail-enders? I would blame it on the bowling coach - is bowling yorkers not part of training sessions at all ? Fine. Innings 1 was over. Shouldn't we have moved on and put up a better bowling display in Innings 2 ? Got smacked all around . Okay. Now what on earth stopped us from not trying to play out for 2 days ? The way clarke and cowan got out, the less the better. Is playing to save a game considered a shameful act ? I am furious, I mean it. I would have taken a 0-0 scoreline on any day against a 0-1 loss. Sigh though.

  • Prasanna on December 3, 2012, 15:51 GMT

    @ raghavan88 , since you made that point, i would love to add a few about my childhood hero Kapil Dev - Kapil took almost more than half of his wickets on the lifeless wickets of the subcontinent. And Kapil would toil hard with very less support from other fast ( were there any ? ) bowlers on the other end. One of the fittest players ever to have represented india. And as you said, he hardly missed out a test-match for fitness reasons - played 65 test matches in a row - an awesome record for a fast bowler- before he was dropped for the 3rd test against Eng in 84 - for reasons better not printed. I recollect that legendary fast bowler Imran grew fitter because of running for longer hours. Even that's what Dennis Lillee has advised to keep fit. Way too much is being made out under the so-called "workload management".

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