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The tearaway who turned craftsman
Part five: Dennis Lillee could knock your block off, and he could think you out too (00:00)
Producer: Ranjit Shinde
March 6, 2012
The tearaway who turned craftsmanMarch 6, 2012
No team of bowlers would be complete without Dennis Lillee of Australia.
I first came across him in 1970. MCC went to Australia under Raymond Illingworth's captaincy and we played against Western Australia. We bowled them out with a short session to bat. This young kid ran in and... wow, he was sharp. In fact, I ducked out of the way, my cap shot off and all our players came out of the dressing room onto the balcony. He had come from nowhere; we had never heard about him.
He played in the Test match at Adelaide, later on in the series and he got wickets. He swung the ball out - it is the best wicket-taking ball of all, if you can swing it out. He could cut the ball. He was quite a bit of tearaway then, as all fast bowlers are. But from there he went forward, learning his craft, and by the end of his career he was just a fantastic bowler.
He could bowl quick at times in his career, and as he got a little older, he used his maturity, his experience, to be a craftsman. So he could go wide of the crease, close to the stumps, swing it, cut it, deceive you with his bouncer... And he had a big heart, as you need to if you are going to be a great bowler.
I think the real test of his character came when he went to West Indies and hurt his back. He had to come home, and they thought that that would be the end of his career, I think that was 1973. He didn't play again for a year - it was one of these new things that we had just started to hear about, called a stress fracture. Don't think we had heard much about that about fast bowlers - they either had a bad back or they were fit as the butcher's dog. It took him a long time to recover, then he came back in 1974, and it coincided with Jeff Thomson coming on the scene. New tearaway, slingy-action guy, and then they terrorised people for a couple of years, Lillee and Thomson, bowling everybody out. Ian Chappell was lucky as a captain, to have not only one fast bowler but two who could terrorise almost any team.
Lillee got a lot of wickets. He lifted the Australian team, he was their iconic bowler. And then he went to Packer, like a few other people. He got 70-odd wickets in the Packer series, in their four-day matches. If you had added those to the wickets he got in the official matches, it would have made his figures look even better. I just think he was an iconic bowler, quality bowler, skilful bowler, clever bowler.
And he has done quite a bit of coaching around the world, because he understands bowling. People have gone to him for help, and he seems to be able to pass on his knowledge, which doesn't always happen. Sometimes you get great cricketers who are purely, naturally gifted, talented at batting and bowling but they are not able to understand about action, what the ball does, what you have got to do to bowl well, but Lillee has been able to pass it on.
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