Dennis Lillee is a man of contradictions. For someone who never really needed to utter anything to intimidate — his mere glower just about did the trick, maintain most bats who have danced to “Dennis the Menace's” music on field — 59-year-old Dennis Lillee is a quite garrulous chap now.
On one hand he confesses, albeit a little reluctantly, to be an “old bloke”, someone for whom nothing can beat the ultimate high of Test cricket. Almost the next moment though he takes particular relish in claiming that he was the initiator, the expeditor and the mastermind behind something that is threatening to rip the very fabric of traditional cricket -Twenty20 cricket, of course.
But then Lillee has always been a steadfast believer in the theory of evolution and has always stood for players' comfort — he was the one who suggested that a made-for-television exhibition series should be played each season with profits given to the players, and it was his manager, John Cornell, who took this idea to Kerry Packer, who later fashioned the World Series Cricket.
So, it was no surprise when on Thursday he backed what has been described as instant noodles cricket by some of his former colleagues.
“In any sport things come along that change its nature. That is how the game evolves. World Series cricket evolved the game, so did the Bodyline series. This (the IPL) might too. And for all my sins, actually I was the one who gave Australia the first jolt of Twenty20 cricket,” grinned Lillee, still fit as a fiddle, after finishing Delhi franchise’s practice session at the Forzeshah Kotla.
“A few years back, as the President of WACA, I organised the first Twenty20 match between West Australia and Victoria. At that time, this format of the game didn’t have the approval of Cricket Australia, but once 25 to 26,000 people turned up for the game at the WACA, they couldn’t ignore it anymore. It jolted them,” he stated.
When asked about the survey that revealed 47 per cent of Australian cricketers would prefer the glitz and money of the IPL to donning the “hallowed” Baggy Green, Lillee drew up a favourable analogy.
“Wouldn’t you prefer to be at a place where you are well looked after?” he asked. “If you are well looked after wherever you are, you wouldn’t go anywhere. And at the moment, Test cricketers, are indeed well-looked after,” he said before repeating the answer thrice to ensure that he was not misquoted!
In the aftermath of India’s notorious tour Down Under, a lot has been said and discussed on sledging, with authorities even threatening to clamp down on innocuous chatter, something that is intrinsic to the game and something that, if curtailed, might lead to extinction of characters. When asked, Lillee was guarded in his reply. “Everything depends on degree of sledging. I feel that it is up to the authorities and particularly captains to control incidents on a cricket field. If the captains can sort things among themselves and decide the extent, things will be very smooth. It’s as simple as that,” he explained.
Demurring at suggestions that T20 cricket was a non-serious form of the game, Lillee said one of the endearing qualities of the format was to force players to think on their feet.
“It is like instant chess. I would have loved to play T20 as it would have forced me to change my mindset and be more defensive in my approach. And nothing gives you a bigger high than succeeding at something that is not your forte. T20 asks a lot of probing questions of bowlers, and that is why it is a huge challenge,” he felt.
He also felt that Test cricket will occupy its pride of place in the firmament but one-day cricket can suffer because of Twenty20’s advent. “That’s a real possibility, “he said.
Lillee also said that the Delhi IPL franchise, where he is involved in an advisory role, has a fine collection of all-round players who can “bat and ball, which is a great strength”.