With the white shirt clinging to his torso, a handlebar moustache, a run-up that sent a chill down the spine of the hapless batsmen, and pace like fire, Dennis Lillee earned the title of the complete bowler.
Lillee was one of the bowlers that cricket in the 21st century craves for.
Dennis Lillee was born on July 18, 1949 in Subaico, Perth, Western Australia. He was a sensation when he was selected to play in his first Ashes series in 1970-71, when he took five wickets for 84 runs in his debut innings in Adelaide.
In the tour to England in 1972 he was the best bowler with 27 wickets in that series. When the stress fracture disturbed him, he came back strongly in the 1974-75 Ashes series and with the company of Jeff Thomson (better known as ‘Thommo’), they were the best lethal pace bowlers who terrorised batsmen.
The aggressive duo possessed an aura that is still talked about with awe. Though he shortened his run-up – it was reduced to a quick jog – Lillee was giving the press more to bite into. The pace duo of Lillee and Thommo tormented the hapless England side.
Another pair in the Aussie team was Lillee and Rod Marsh, the wicketkeeper combo. “Caught Marsh, bowled Lillee” appeared 95 times in Test cricket and is yet to be challenged.
In an era of contests, the best duel was Lillee versus Viv Richards – the lethal bowler versus the destructive batsman.
Lillee and Richards were the main protagonists in the pinnacle of cricket. When they met first in 1975, Lillee dismissed the young Viv Richards five times in the home series and took 27 wickets in a 5-1 home win for the Aussies.
In the World Series Cricket promoted by Kerry Packer, the duel continued and in fact it was marketed as Lillee versus Richards in 1977 and Lillee dominated by dismissing him eight times.
Overall Viv Richards won the contest in Tests, averaging 48.73 facing Lillee, though Richards was dismissed nine times by Lillee in Tests – more than any other bowler.
In the Centenary Test in 1977 against England, his 11-165 was the cornerstone of the Aussies’ victory.
Lillee overtook Lance Gibbs from the West Indies on 309 wickets and posted his 300 wickets in the fastest time (56 Tests), a record at that time. He was also the highest wicket taker in Tests with 355 wickets at that time.
His stint in ODIs was also worth mentioning. He took 103 scalps in 63 outings including a five-for in the World Cup in 1975, which was the first five-for in an ODI.
Taking a strict fitness regime, he spent time in the gym and on the treadmill. He also liked pilates and had a machine at his home.
Post his retirement, he was the president of the Western Australia Cricket Association plus the MRF Pace Foundation, which was started in 1987. Lillee was made into a director and he held the post until 2012 when he passed the baton to another legendary Aussie bowler, Glenn McGrath, who presently holds the post.
Incidentally McGrath was also trained here. One of the early aspirants, Sachin Tendulkar, was turned down by Lillee, asking him to concentrate on batting rather than pace bowling.
Dennis Lillee, the tutor, helped so many young pace bowlers to hone their skills at the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai, India.
He held the post of director for 25 years in the foundation. Many pace bowlers were trained under him. The likes of Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan of India and international bowlers like Brett Lee, Shoaib Akhtar and Shane Bond.
To date, 17 trainees from the MRF Pace Foundation have played for India.
Not bereft of controversies, Lillee chose to take a confrontational attitude some times. He had a tiff with Javed Miandad in the 1981 Perth Test and subsequently was fined and copped a Test ban. He also came in to bat with an aluminium bat for a Test match.