Dennis Lillee: Leaving behind a legacy in India

Former Australian cricketer Dennis Lillee recently announced that he will be ending his 25-year long coaching tenure in India during which he helped shape many fast bowlers of modern cricket. The 63-year-old legend has played a huge role in revolutionizing Indian cricket’s approach to fast bowling and has been instrumental in shaping up the careers of Indian bowlers such as Irfan Pathan, RP Singh, Munaf Patel and S Sreesanth. A feared pacer back in his day, Lillee has 355 Test scalps to his credit and was the pioneer of fast bowling in Australia.

During the last 25 years, he has trained a number of great international fast bowlers from Chaminda Vaas to Heath Streak. Even Aussies Glenn McGrath, Mitchell Johnson and Castrol Brand Ambassador Brett Lee have all trained under Lillee at his clinic. Interestingly, the story goes that Sachin Tendulkar had also sought Lillee’s help to become a fast bowler but was advised otherwise by the stalwart who believed he was a much more talented batsman. And the rest, as they say, is history!

Castrol Brand Ambassador Brett Lee has high praise for his Aussie senior, “I have been playing under the guidance of Dennis Lillee from a very young age – since the time I was 16 years old. He has really supported my career. He sorted my action and helped me with my bowling.”

Lillee has been working with Indian bowlers since Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad who were forerunners among lethal seamers in India. But his biggest success story has been the rise of Zaheer Khan. In Lillee’s own words, Khan is a complete fast bowler and is among the best in the world.

Speaking to, noted commentator Harsha Bhogle agrees that Lillee shaped fast bowling in India. “I think Lillee’s greatest contribution was the awareness that India could produce fast bowlers”, he said.

“Most people look at Dennis Lillee as someone who started off as a tearaway paceman and then just settled down to be one of the most graceful fast bowlers of the game. Those that played against him say that there is very little doubt that he was amongst the best. When you play with someone in your team, then you tend to speak about him anyway; but when people playing against you praise you, then you must be a great cricketer. Even while he was playing, the difference between Lillee and – say a – Jeff Thompson, the latter came running in and bowled while Lillee was this ‘thinking’ fast bowler who got a lot of his wickets after he dropped his pace. When you think batsmen out, you could really do things with a ball. And so there was a difference to Lillee. But he was a frightening fast bowler when he started off.”

Bhogle added, “I remember as a child reading about that 8-wicket haul against Rest of the World. And that is when the great fast bowler was announced to the world. For him to come back from the injuries that he had was incredible.”

Even for modern day cricketers, Lillee has been a great inspiration. Lee went on to say, “I have always looked up to Lillee as my role model and I think he is a great idol for all upcoming fast bowlers.” And that’s exactly what happened with India’s Zaheer Khan.

Bhogle, who is also a Castrol Brand Ambassador, believes that the rise of Khan as India’s pace spearhead is the biggest positive to emerge out of Lillee’s 25 years in India. “Zaheer has to be the most outstanding contribution to Indian cricket. There have been other bowlers as well, like – briefly – Sreesanth, Pathan, and Balaji.”

“Lillee’s experience helped not only because he was a fast bowler but also because he thought deeply about fast bowling. The physical side of fast bowling was just one aspect of it. The other was just getting them to know how to become fast bowlers which is an invaluable lesson. He was one half of – what was probably – the most feared fast bowling combinations in the world. Because he had a great action, it made it easier to bowl. There are a lot of fast bowlers who just run in and bowl quick, but don’t understand fast bowling. But he understood his trade very well. Lillee is also a great communicator. I have spoken to him a couple of times and he is extremely full of confidence like a lot of top Australian cricketers are and is not shy of speaking his mind.”

After Lillee, which other legend will be able to fill in his shoes and carry forward his legacy? There have been talks about either Glenn McGrath or Allan Donald. In Harsha’s opinion, we need someone with an old school perspective which will be excellent for fast bowlers. “Shaun Pollock will be an excellent choice, because he is the classical fast bowler – pretty much in the McGrath mould – but someone who is very patient, a great giver, and a very good role model. I have seen him work with the Mumbai team initially and he has been very influential with them.”

Going by that, Lillee leaves behind a pair of tough shoes to fill but his role in building fledgling pace bowling careers will never be forgotten. From all of us at Castrol Cricket, here’s wishing Dennis Lillee the very best in life.