Stats analysis: Dennis Lillee

Determination personified

Dennis Lillee was an exceptionally skilled fast bowler, but his doggedness and endurance set him apart

Madhusudhan Ramakrishnan

December 6, 2010

Comments: 37 | Text size: A | A

Dennis Lillee traps Mike Gatting lbw, England v Australia, 3rd Test, Headingley,  July 18, 1981
Dennis Lillee: awesome in Ashes Tests © Getty Images
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Dennis Lillee was described by Ian Chappell as "a captain's dream and a batsman's nightmare". Considering Lillee's outstanding bowling record, the statement is a pretty accurate one. He was one of the greatest match-winning bowlers in Tests, and together with Jeff Thomson formed one of the most potent new-ball pairs of the 1970s. During the span of his international career, Australia won 31 matches and lost 16 when Lillee played, but won only 15 and lost 28 when Lillee did not play. His numbers are up there with the best of fast bowlers and his record as one of Australia's greatest post-War bowlers is matched only by Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.

Lillee's stats are obviously outstanding, but they become even more impressive when seen in the context of the injury he suffered early in his career. Less than two years after his Test debut in 1971, Lillee was diagnosed with stress fractures, leading to his absence for over one year. He returned in November 1974 and went on to become the best bowler in the world over the next three years. It was also the most successful phase of his career as he picked up 120 wickets in just 21 matches with eight five-wicket and three ten-wicket hauls. He bowled Australia to two Ashes series triumphs and played a major role in the 5-1 win over Clive Lloyd's West Indies team in 1975-76. He played in World Series Cricket for two years from 1977 to 1979 before returning to international cricket in December 1979. The last five years of his career were also prolific as he added 184 wickets in 38 matches in this period, eventually finishing as the most successful Australian bowler in Tests. For Lillee's detailed career stats click here.

Lillee's career stats
Period Matches Wickets Average 5WI 10WM
Overall 70 355 23.92 23 7
1971-Feb 1973 11 51 24.15 4 1
Nov 1974-Mar 1977 21 120 23.20 8 3
Dec 1979-end 38 184 24.32 11 3

Almost half the Test wickets Lillee took were against England. With 167 scalps in 29 matches, Lillee was the most successful bowler in Australia-England Tests till Warne surpassed him in 2005. Only Curtly Ambrose, Malcolm Marshall and Glenn McGrath average lower than Lillee in Tests against England. He has four ten-wicket hauls in Ashes Tests, a record he shares with three other bowlers. His 11 five-wickets hauls in Ashes Tests is second only to Sydney Barnes' 12.

Lillee was one of the best bowlers in Australia, picking up 231 wickets. Among Australian bowlers who have picked up over 150 wickets in home Tests, Lillee's average is second only to McGrath's 22.43.

Best post-War bowlers against England (Qual: 100 wickets and 20 matches)
Bowler Matches Wickets Average 5WI 10WM
Curtly Ambrose 34 164 18.79 8 2
Malcolm Marshall 26 127 19.18 6 1
Glenn McGrath 30 157 20.92 10 0
Dennis Lillee 29 167 21.00 11 4
Ray Lindwall 29 114 22.44 6 0
Shane Warne 36 195 23.25 11 4

Lillee picked up more than 200 wickets in wins at an average of just over 18. Among Australian bowlers who have picked up more than 100 wickets in home wins, his average of just over 19 is the best.

Best bowlers in wins (min qualification 200 wickets in wins)
Bowler Wickets Matches won Wickets in wins Average in wins 5WI 10WM % of wickets in wins
Muttiah Muralitharan 800 54 438 16.18 41 18 54.75
Malcolm Marshall 376 43 254 16.78 17 4 67.55
Curtly Ambrose 405 44 229 16.86 13 3 56.54
Waqar Younis 373 39 222 18.20 14 4 59.51
Dennis Lillee 355 31 203 18.27 17 6 57.18
Shaun Pollock 421 49 223 18.30 9 1 52.96

The 1970s and 1980s witnessed some of the finest fast bowlers including Lillee, Richard Hadlee and Marshall. Lillee's overall performance is surpassed only by Marshall and Hadlee. However, Lillee took almost all his wickets in Australia and England; his stats outside those two countries and New Zealand were pretty ordinary. He played only five matches and took six wickets in Asia and the West Indies at an average of over 90. In contrast, Marshall and Hadlee were superb in the subcontinent, boasting averages of close to 22.

Comparison of bowling stats of top fast bowlers between 1970 and 1990
Bowler Overall wickets Avg Wickets(h) Avg Wickets(a) Avg Wickets(subcontinent) Avg
Malcolm Marshall 326 20.54 133 19.40 193 21.33 65 22.63
Richard Hadlee 396 22.21 182 23.00 214 21.55 68 21.58
Dennis Lillee 355 23.92 231 23.73 124 24.28 6 68.33
Bob Willis 325 25.20 176 23.50 149 27.20 44 23.22
Ian Botham 376 28.27 222 27.28 154 29.71 35 26.31

For almost 18 months between February 1973 and November 1974, Lillee did not play competitive cricket because of injuries, but came back strongly to become the world's best bowler over the next three years. In 1977, he played in World Series Cricket and demonstrated once again that he was at the peak of his career. In a series that featured the world's top fast bowlers, Lillee took the most wickets, though he also played the most matches, picking up 67 wickets in 14 games across the two seasons.

Performance of top bowlers in World Series Cricket
Bowler Team Matches played Wickets taken Average 5 10
Garth Le Roux World XI 3 17 15.88 2 0
Mike Procter World XI 4 14 16.07 0 0
Imran Khan World XI 5 25 20.84 0 0
Michael Holding West Indies 9 35 23.31 1 0
Andy Roberts West Indies and World XI 13 50 24.14 1 0
Joel Garner West Indies and World XI 7 35 24.77 1 0
Max Walker Australia 7 28 25.42 2 0
Dennis Lillee Australia 14 67 26.86 4 0
Jeff Thomson Australia 5 16 29.75 1 0

Lillee's skills and Thomson's pace were instrumental in making Australia the world's best team in the mid 1970s. In 26 matches together, they picked up 217 wickets at an average of just over 27. They routed England in 1974-75, sharing 58 wickets between them in six Tests as Australia won 4-1. In the 1975-76 series against West Indies, which Australia won 5-1, they again set up a convincing victory picking up 56 wickets in the six Tests. Lillee and Thomson were at their peak for three years between 1974 and 1977, picking up an extraordinary 149 wickets in 15 Tests at an average of just over 25. But their overall average is slightly higher than some of the other leading fast-bowling pairs. While Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram boast a stunning average of 22.12 with 37 five-wicket and seven ten-wicket hauls, the Caribbean pairing of Ambrose and Courtney Walsh has been the most successful, picking up 762 in 95 matches at an average of 22.67.

Top fast-bowling pairs in Tests
Pair Team Matches Wickets Average 5WI 10WM
Lillee/Thomson Australia 26 217 27.20 9 0
Roberts/Holding West Indies 30 233 25.65 13 3
Ambrose/Walsh West Indies 95 762 22.67 36 5
Donald/Pollock South Africa 47 397 21.84 22 1
Akram/Younis Pakistan 61 559 22.12 37 7
McGrath/Gillespie Australia 58 484 23.01 23 1

Lillee reserved his best for the big occasion and more often than not, produced superb performances in crunch situations. As early as 1971, he stunned the Rest of the World XI in an unofficial Test match at Perth with a haul of 8 for 29 as they were bowled out for 59. In the next Test, he dismissed Garry Sobers for a first-ball duck in the first innings, only for Sobers to respond with a fantastic 254 in the second innings, where Lillee went for over 100 runs.

In the Centenary Test in 1977, Lillee's 11-wicket haul set up a 45-run victory for Australia. In 1981, he rose to the occasion twice after Australia had been bowled out for low scores. Against West Indies at the MCG, Australia had been bowled out for just 198, with Kim Hughes making a superb century. Lillee responded with an exceptional spell at the end of the first day, removing Viv Richards off the last ball of the day, leaving West Indies at 10 for 4. He eventually ended up with his best bowling figures of 7 for 83, leading Australia to a victory. In the first Test at Perth, his 5 for 18 helped Australia bowl out Pakistan for 62 after they themselves had made just 180.

Lillee was a brilliant bowler to top-order batsmen and accounted for the best batsmen in the opposition regularly. He dismissed Viv Richards and David Gower nine times, though the player who succumbed to him most often was England's wicketkeeper Allan Knott (12 times). Dennis Amiss, who averaged more than 70 against the West Indies, was very ordinary against Lillee. He averaged below seven in the eight innings he was dismissed by Lillee, making three ducks and just one score over 10. Lillee was most successful under Greg Chappell's captaincy, picking up 199 wickets in 38 Tests. Fittingly, he retired along with Chappell and Marsh at the SCG in 1984, after picking up a wicket off his last ball.

The Lillee-Rodney Marsh combination is the most successful bowler-keeper pairing in Tests. Marsh took 95 catches off Lillee's bowling in 69 matches, which is five more than the Mcgrath-Adam Gilchrist combination.

Best bowler-keeper combinations
Bowler Pair Matches Catches
Dennis Lillee Rodney Marsh 69 95
Glenn McGrath Adam Gilchrist 71 90
Makhaya Ntini Mark Boucher 96 84
Brett Lee Adam Gilchrist 65 81
Shaun Pollock Mark Boucher 88 79
Malcolm Marshall Jeff Dujon 68 71

Lillee picked up 25 wickets or more in a series on four occasions. His best performance came in the 1981 Ashes series, when he picked up 39 wickets. The series though, ended in defeat for Australia after Ian Botham's heroics. Lillee's 39-wicket haul is the fourth-highest by an Australian bowler in an Ashes series behind Terry Alderman, Rodney Hogg and Warne. He became the highest wicket-taker for Australia in early 1981, going past Richie Benaud, and later in the same year, he became the highest wicket-taker in Tests, surpassing Lance Gibbs' haul of 309. He reached 200 wickets in just 38 Tests, and remains the second-fastest to the mark, behind Clarrie Grimmett. He is also the fastest to 250 and 300 wickets, reaching the landmarks in just 48 and 56 Tests respectively.

Lillee played only 63 ODIs in his career, but picked up over 100 wickets at an average below 21. His performance in World Cups was not great, but he went on to become the first bowler to pick up five wickets in an innings in ODIs, when he picked up 5 for 34 against Pakistan in the 1975 World Cup. In the WSC one-day matches, he picked up 54 wickets to go with his superb show in the Super Tests. In the Australian tri-series matches between 1977 and 1984, he was the most successful bowler with 68 wickets at a average of just over 18. Another exceptional performance came in a Gillette Cup semi-final when Western Australia were defending just 77 against Queensland. He dismissed Viv Richards for a duck and Greg Chappell for nine in his spell of 4 for 21, leading Western Australia to a 15-run victory.

Though Lillee had a batting average of 13.71 with just one half-century, his highest score was an unbeaten 73 at Lord's in 1975, making him one of only four No.10 batsmen to make a fifty-plus score at the ground.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by harshthakor on (December 11, 2010, 6:33 GMT)

Bradman chose Lillee in his all-time 11.Viv Richards rated Lillee his most feared pace bowler and greatest opponent.No bowler troubled th e greatest ever batsman agaisnt pace bowling as Lillee.Michael Holding rates him the best alongside Mcgrath and Marshall.

In terms of bolwing skill in his era the paceman who came closest to Lillee was Andy Roberts ,who posessed a wide repertoire ofdeliveries and subtle variations of pace.In terms of bolwing skill he was closer to Lillee than Hadlee,Imran or Holding.In pure natural ability Wasim Akram was the best ,being more versatile than any fast bolwer.

Ultimately it is Marshall v.Lillee.Lillee was the most classical of all posessing ever quality be it match-winning ability,action swing ,cut, but Marshall posessed some deliveries which were virtually his own creation,which no other paceman could deliver.

Posted by harshthakor on (December 11, 2010, 5:14 GMT)

Statistics just do not tell the complete story.Remember the greatbatting line ups Lillee bowled too,particularly those of West Indies under Clive Lloyd.I can't foget his briliant peformance on a docile Melbourne wicket in 1979-80 where he brilliantly used the seam of the ball to capture 11 wickets.He was also succesful in the Carribean in the 54 supertsets in 1979 capturing 24 wickets.Surely he would have excelled on the sub-continent,in the modern era.Remember Lillee's strike rate is 52 in contrast to Imran's 53.8.

Lillee may not have Hadlee's statistics who was the best on a green top.But on a flat track Hadlee could never be as effective as Dennis who could adapt his skills to all types of conditions with his vast repertoire.Rember the 1987 M.C.C match at Lords when Hadlee wa s hardly effective.Lillee posessed every ingredient of a great paceman with his pace, swing,variations and unmatched fighting spirit.Remember experts chose him in the all-time team,ahead of Mcgrath or Hadee

Posted by GoldenAsif on (December 9, 2010, 7:43 GMT)

The period - 70s and 80s - was surely the golden age of fast bowling. You look at Lillee, Imran, Hadlee, Malcolm Marshall, Holding, Croft, Roberts, Garner, Walsh, Ambrose and Wasim Akram. Fast bowling isn't the same standard anymore with a few exceptions. Imran Khan once said that the two most naturally gifted fast bowlers he had seen in his life were Holding and Akram

Posted by DonHines on (December 9, 2010, 4:27 GMT)

Lillee was an amazing bowler to watch on supportive wickets. He was deadly in Australia and England. Yes it is true he was pretty ordinary on batting tracks and was smacked all over the park on those pitches. However in friendly conditions, especially in Australia, he was the bowler to watch. Deadly with the ball, willing to do anything to get the advantage by hook or crook. I still remember when he kicked Miandad from behind to teach him a lesson. Miandad was never the same batsman in Australia after that. All in all, one of the best Australian fast bowlers ever.

Posted by the_complete_batsman on (December 9, 2010, 3:22 GMT)

As great as Lillee was, I still don't get how he is rated above Marshall by some. Just take a look at Marshall's record - it is nothing short of fantastic! The only reason he doesn't have as many as many 5-fors as Lillee is that he had to share his wickets with a lot of great fast bowlers around him.

Posted by absha1 on (December 8, 2010, 23:48 GMT)

@harshthakor Thank you. You illustrate the point that Lillee is one of the greatest bowlers. As to who is best, everyone has a favourite, and each little factor changes these rankings, lists, etc by a little here and there. Even the analysis you refer to: The fearsome fifteen (http://blogs.espncricinfo.com/itfigures/archives/2010/08/the_fearsome_fifteen_a_look_at.php) illustrates this. An initial analysis showed imran above lillee, a revised analysis (which takes WpT into account, something which hurts allrounders, especially the batting allrounder Imran was at career-end - he played beyond his shelf-life as a bowler) showed Lillee above Imran. If Imran, for example, had stayed retired in 1987, with an average of 21, this ranking might have been different, but that is the fun of these lists.

Posted by GoldenAsif on (December 8, 2010, 20:10 GMT)

@ harshtakor

wickets per test just like runs per test are meaningless stats. Bowling average, SR, 5 and 10w hauls; batting average and test 100s & 50s etc. are important stats for sure. Because of the dull nature of the pitches in the sub-continent in general (Sri Lanka is an exception), test matches esp. those in the 70s and 80s mostly ended in boring draws. Bowlers rarely got a chance to bowl in the second innings as tests often had just one completed innings! It is only since the 90s that we are seeing results in 70% of even sub-continental tests. The mandatory 90 overs per day rule has much to do with it. And don't forget Imran also had to worry about other things - captaincy and batting. So for him to be averaging 22.81 with the ball is quite commendable. Imran missed 2.5 years of test cricket between 1983 and 1986 just when he was at the peak of his powers. He had just taken 40 wickets in 6 tests against a formidable Indian batting line-up on the flat pitches of Pakistan

Posted by absha1 on (December 8, 2010, 18:24 GMT)

@ Rafay Iqbal Thanks, maybe I was confusing McGrath with Ambrose; the study was a while back. That leaves Imran, but this just illustrates it is incredibly difficult to achieve consistency across surfaces and oppositions. I agree with Trueman's Ghost and Bollo. Too many of the comments are mean spirited, and in the 70s, the subcontinent teams were middling. Lillee was a great bowler, and and other great bowlers looked up to him. People trashing him should respect that.

Posted by harshthakor on (December 8, 2010, 17:47 GMT)

For viewrs to demonsrtate Lillee's brilliance .Imagine being rtaed above Warne. Ananth Narayan;s statistical ratings figures in 2 separate analysis 's Analysis 2 1. Barnes S.F 55.86 2. Hadlee R.J 54.46 . 3 Lillee D.K 53.18 4. Pak Imran Khan 52.70 5. Win Marshall M.D 50.85 6. Aus McGrath G.D 50.80

Analysis 1

1. Slk Muralitharan 51.30 2. Aus Lillee D.K 48.05 3. Aus Warne S.K 48.00 4. Nzl Hadlee R.J 47.97 5. Pak Imran Khan 47.90 6. Saf Steyn D.W 45.55 7. Win Marshall M.D 45.44 8. Aus McGrath G.D 44.86

Posted by harshthakor on (December 8, 2010, 17:21 GMT)

Dennis Lillee is a better fast bowler than Imran Khan or Glen Mcgrath.He has a superior strike rate to IMranand a superior haul of 10 wicket hauls and ratio of 5 wicket hauls ,and wickets per test than Mcgrath.In 2 statistical analysis's of Ananth Narayana on the greatset fast bolwers of all in cricinfo Lillee is rated ahead of Imran ,Mcgrath and Marshall.Infact 2 points ahead of the latter 2,even in arevised analysis.Where was Imran Khan as complete a fast bolwer as Lillee?

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