It started as raw, volcanic vigour and a fascination for hurling balls down in a fiery spark, making them leave the hand and zip across 22-yards in the least possible interval of time.
During the second stage it was hostility laced with skill, a near-perfect weapon of untamed primal force with fast sprouting guile. The flame of aggression singed the best of batsmen, most often burnt them to cinders. Yet the fire suggested burnout. Something had to give. And his back did. There were an interlude of inaction, frustration and agony.
When he came back, it was as if he had been forged by the scorching travails, the artillery of the past enhanced with the science cultivated through months of reflection. The action was remodelled, the hostility remained intact. The offerings were sharpened to cutting edge fast bowling.
And finally there were the riches of experience, enhancing his trade into the highest level of art. As a senior pro he was the veritable text book of his profession. Even a phenomenon like Richard Hadlee had a magic formula that spelt his success, a simple question which ran: “What would Lillee do?”
Dennis Lillee’s career evolved through these phases. It overcame pain, it snipped out the shortcomings to chisel lasting perfection; it won over the inevitable fraying brought about by age. And it ended as one of the most successful of all fast bowling tales in the history of cricket.
To the Australians as well as the rest of the world, he remains a legend, a talismanic figure in the history of fast bowling. The thick mane has gone to reveal a balding head, and the moustache has become grey with the passage of time. Yet the face of menace is recognisable still, through the many inundations of age, and it harks back memories of supremely skilled, intimidatory fast bowling at its absolute best.
Dennis Lillee was born on July 18, 1949.
Text: Arunabha Sengupta