'One of the most undignified incidents in Test history'
Dennis Lillee and Javed Miandad were two of cricket's most high-profile players in the 1980s. Both mixed brilliant play with an unfortunate tendency to attract controversy - and newspaper headlines. These two abrasive characters came up against each other when Pakistan toured Australia in 1981-82, with explosive consequences.
Pakistan arrived in October 1981 for a three-Test series under Miandad's captaincy. It was his first overseas trip as captain, and he was leading a side that contained deep divisions. Several senior players were unhappy with his appointment and made their dissatisfaction fairly clear. Wisden noted that "he did not appear to have the support of the whole team".
In the first Test, in Perth, Australia were bowled out for 180 after being put in on a moist pitch, but there was still enough juice to enable Lillee (5 for 18) and Terry Alderman (4 for 36) to rout Pakistan for 62 - they were 26 for 8 at one stage. Second time round, Australia piled up 424 for 8, setting Pakistan an almost impossible 543 to win and leaving them almost two days to survive.
Two early strikes by Alderman reduced Pakistan 27 for 2, when Miandad came out to bat. A fired-up Lillee, aided by a vociferous crowd, gave Miandad and Mansoor Akhtar a torrid time, but they held firm. With a decent third-wicket stand building, a tense situation then boiled over 40 minutes before tea.
Miandad turned Lillee behind square for a single, and in completing an easy run he collided with the bowler. Eyewitnesses agreed that Lillee was to blame and most observed that he had deliberately moved into the batsman's path. The two players' versions of events differ - both their autobiographies feature a lot of self-justification. Miandad claimed that Lillee blocked him and "pushed him out of the way"; Lillee's version of events has Miandad subjecting him to abuse as he approached and Lillee replying in kind - no mention of any contact.
As Lillee turned he maintained that Miandad struck him from behind with his bat; Miandad countered with the claim that Lillee had kicked him as he passed. What isn't in doubt is that Lillee then turned to confront Miandad, and Miandad lifted his bat above his head as if to strike him. The unedifying images of Tony Crafter, the umpire, stepping in to hold back Lillee while Miandad wielded his bat like a deranged javelin thrower were beamed around the world.
As Greg Chappell, Australia's captain, rushed to intervene, Lillee walked away, but after about six yards he turned and came back for more. Again Crafter and Chappell blocked him, and with it being the end of the over, he eventually headed out to the boundary. "When this sort of things happens I believe in an eye for an eye," he said at the close.
If the incident itself - described by Wisden Cricketers' Almanack as "one of the most undignified incidents in Test history" - was unacceptable, what followed off the pitch just rubbed salt in the wound. The media were in no doubt where the blame lay - with Lillee. Bob Simpson, the former Australian captain, wrote that it was "the most disgraceful thing I have seen on a cricket field". Keith Miller, in the Sydney Sunday Telegraph, added that Lillee "should be suspended for the rest of the season", and Ian Chappell added that Lillee's actions were those of "a spoiled, angry child".
The Australian players - who sat in self-judgement on such matters in those days - found Lillee guilty but maintained he had been provoked and fined him A$200, a decision that attracted almost as much anger as the incident itself. The two umpires complained at the leniency of the punishment, and the under-fire Australian board swiftly convened a hearing.
But Greg Chappell supported Lillee, a position at odds with almost all the local media and much of the public. "If we thought he had been responsible in the first place for what happened, we'd have had no hesitation in rubbing him out," Chappell said, before trotting out a catalogue of previous clashes between the two countries as self-justification. "What Miandad did," he wrote, "was the most disgraceful thing I have seen on a cricket pitch." He even suggested that it had all been part of a plot by Pakistan to entrap Lillee.
Ijaz Butt, Pakistan's manager, who three decades later was to prove an even more outspoken figure than he was back then, filed a complaint with the Australian board. He claimed Lillee had been taunting his players from the start of the match by "mimicking, clapping, and his antics of sitting on the pitch" and concluded: "If he were one of my players he would not play Test cricket again." Butt's assistant Shafqat Rana said the fine was "pathetic".
Hours later, Crafter and his colleague, Mel Johnson, sent a formal letter of protest over Miandad's behaviour to Butt.
The next day Lillee went into the Pakistan changing room and apologised, but only for his reaction. Miandad and Butt immediately rejected the overture. "Lillee was concentrating on one word - retaliation - when he apologised," Miandad said. "Everyone can see he is guilty."
As the match drifted to a conclusion - Australia won by 286 runs - the tension mounted. After the finish, the Australian team sent a letter to the Pakistan management, condemning Miandad's action of "striking Dennis Lillee during play" and said Lillee had been "extremely provoked". Pakistan countered with an assertion that an apology was "uncalled for because the incident has been seen by everyone on television and it is clear the fault lies completely on the shoulders of Lillee".
The posturing continued. Lillee told reporters he would immediately retire if he was suspended, while Butt hinted to anyone who would listen that Pakistan might pack their bags and go home were no action to follow.
The ACB sat the next day and reduced the fine to A$120 but added a two-match ban. Cynics noted that the punishment ensured that Lillee missed two fairly low-key one-day internationals, and none of the Tests. Butt was appeased ("I am glad something has been done and the incident is now closed"), while after a night's sleep Lillee reconsidered his retirement threat and said: "The matter should now stay closed in all quarters."
The tour continued to be played under a cloud, not helped by the perception that Miandad had got away scot-free. Australia won the second Test by 10 wickets, with Lillee dismissing Miandad in both innings, while Pakistan got some consolation with an innings victory in the final match.
Lillee and Miandad eventually patched things up, though both continue to argue their relative innocence to this day.
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Menace - Dennis Lillee (Headline, 2003)
Cutting Edge - Javed Miandad (Oxford University Press, 2003)
Wisden Cricket Monthly - Various
The Cricketer - Various
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1982
Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa