"We shared mutual respect"

"Greg was very aware of the mental aspect of the game from the beginning. It was an integral part of his cricket. He drew his strength from it."


"Greg (left) was very Australian in his outlook," says Lillee.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

DENNIS LILLEE and Greg Chappell were great mates; Lillee, the fast bowler with the classical action, Chappell, the batsman who personified elegance.

Lillee's accuracy and movement took him to the acme. Chappell conquered with his flair and solidity. Simply put, both were men of substance.

And in the Australian sides of the 70s and early 80s, the two scripted several tales of triumph. It is not surprising that Lillee calls Chappell a `perfectionist.' He is one too.

The legendary Australian paceman, who was in Chennai recently for yet another coaching stint at the MRF Pace Foundation, journeyed to the days of `Chappell — the Player' in his chat with The Sportstar.

"We shared mutual respect. I remember him as Mr. Dependable," he says. For Australia, they were comrade in arms. In the intensely competitive Sheffield Shield cricket, sparks often flew when Lillee, the West Australian, and Chappell, the South Australian, met at opposite ends.

Lillee, who sent back 355 batsmen in 70 Tests, recollects one such duel when planning and execution came to the forefront. "We set a trap for him. Marsh signalled to me as I started my run-up to bowl a short delivery on the leg-side above the shoulder height to Chappell." Lillee's words also reflect how much Marsh, that exceptional wicket-keeper, contributed to the tally of the bowlers.

There were occasions when Chappell emerged the winner in the engrossing face-off but this was Lillee's day. "Greg liked to go around the ball and direct it towards fine-leg than strike it square. The idea was to have him edging it. It happened that way. Marsh took a great catch and ran six laps of the ground!"

Chappell collected 7110 runs in 87 Tests at 53.86, adorned with 24 hundreds. And his average in the ODIs was a worthy 40.18 in 74 matches. Much of his cricket was played in the era of the great fast bowlers and lively surfaces. Runs rarely were gathered easily.

Lillee highlights Chappell's focus at the crease. "He concentrated hard. He was someone who always trying to assess the situation and then take control."

It was not a fast bowler, but a spinner in English left-armer Derek Underwood who troubled Chappell most. "All great players go through some testing periods. Underwood, sometimes, tied him down. When great batsmen are restricted in their scoring, they can get frustrated which can lead to their dismissal," Lillee points out.

And Lillee is not surprised that `Chappell-the coach' lays so much emphasis on mental attributes. "Greg was very aware of the mental aspect of the game from the beginning. It was an integral part of his cricket. He drew his strength from it."

Greg was a majestic driver of the ball in the `V', while his elder brother Ian excelled in horizontal bat strokes square of the wicket. Asked how different Greg and Ian were in their batsmanship, Lillee replies, "Both could play a lot of strokes without appearing to rip the attack apart. Greg was very calculative in his batting, knew when to take a bowler on. He would bide his time. Ian would push the issue. Greg reacted to situations. Ian created them."

The Chappell brothers dominated Australian cricket in the 70s. They were contrasting personalities and leaders with different approaches to the game. And both hated losing.

Lillee has watched them from close quarters. And he is well qualified to air his views. "Ian appeared more aggressive. Greg seemed more aloof, formal. He, in fact, looked more English. But under the surface Greg was very Australian in his outlook."

Ian and Greg were also long-standing and successful Australian captains. Lillee was the pace spearhead under both of them. "Each had his own method. It's hard to tell who was better. Ian allowed the game to flow. He would have a plan but would let you set your own field and things like that. Greg was more `hands on.' If he had a suggestion, he would want you to execute it his way, set his own fields."

On the infamous incident, when Greg asked his younger brother Trevor to bowl underarm with New Zealand requiring six runs off the last delivery to tie the third World Series final of 1981, Lillee says, "I didn't agree with it, but I did not think it was a big deal. I had seen it being done in county cricket. They had an opportunity to ban it before, they didn't. It probably was not a very sporting thing to do, but it was within the laws then."

Lillee sheds further light on Chappell's formidable attributes as a cricketer, this time as a slip catcher. Chappell has held 122 catches in Tests, invariably plucking the ball out of thin air. "He would be so relaxed. It was the ease with which he caught the ball that stood out. He seemed to move so easily. You rarely saw Greg drop a catch. And he would take outstanding ones effortlessly."

The Australian cordon behind the stumps was a huge factor in the team's conquests. "We had Marsh behind, Greg at first slip, Ian at second, Walters at third, and Mallet at Gully. They never let anything get past them. This encouraged us hugely."

With 47 Test wickets at 40.70 and 74 ODI scalps at 29.12, Greg Chappell also secured crucial breakthroughs for Australia. "He was a very crafty customer. He was military medium, but could swing the ball both ways and also bowl seam up. There were occasions too when he sent down leg-spin," says Lillee.

The Sydney Test against Pakistan in 1983-84 also marked the final Test of Lillee, Chappell, and Marsh. Lillee denies their departure from international cricket was premeditated. "It was not discussed or planned. We took our own decisions. It surprisingly, happened to be in the same Test. It was coincidental."

For the Indian cricket team to "embrace change," Lillee wants Chappell to be backed by the authorities, the players and the media. Meanwhile, he trains his attention on adding to the depth of pace bowlers in the country. "We are focussing on the 16 to 20 age group at the MRF Pace Foundation. Head-coach T.A. Sekar would look out for talent, even in the smaller towns. We have an exciting phase ahead."

And he is ready to lend a helping hand to Chappell in his quest with the Indian team. The two do travel a long way back. The headhunter and the smooth stroker were an act all right.