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On a cold winter's eve with Dennis Lillee

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Dennis_Lillee_Australia_CricketIt was an inauspicious place. A hotel in Gateshead! Then, Durham was not even a first class county, that came in 1992. But we had a very strong league cricket base here in Northumberland and Durham, which had been the case for over a 100 years.

Here it was based around coal mining pit villages. Every village had a team. Sure, there was the odd posh club too, composed of solicitors, surveyors, businessman and the like. Largely though, here in Durham and Northumberland it was a working man’s game.

And we produced several very good professionals. Even Test players. A famous one was Colin Milburn from Burnopfield.

Starved of professional cricket, events like ’An Evening with Dennis Lilllee’ were eagerly anticipated.
It was sometime in winter, and I’m not sure why Dennis was over in the UK at the time. I got the ticket off my next door neighbour, who had to drop out at the last minute. Being a young lad, just turned a drinking age, I headed off on the bus. Only a 15 minute journey.

As an opening batsman I was enthralled by pace bowlers. Lillee and Thomson held an absolute fascination for me. Totally self confident, or so it seemed, swashbuckling, making mincemeat out of the best in the world.

The highlights package on the BBC of cricket in Australia was engrossing. It was different.

The light was much clearer, brighter. The pitches, quicker, the game more exciting. The commentary and TV gimmicks were different to the BBC. Not better, just different.

Dennis walked onto the stage, with a big smile and said, words to the effect, “Thanks for coming on this freezing cold night you Pommie bastards!’

Cue laughter!

A ream of cricketing stories; he rated John Edrich above Geoff Boycott as the toughest English player, cocking a snook at posh dignitaries in England he met as an Australian player. I remember his dad was in the audience.

“Look at the old bastard there. Thanks dad, that’s why I’m going bald!” His dad smiled indulgently at Dennis.

What a friendly open guy, chatting away to everyone afterwards over a beer, signing all and everything. I was a bit awestruck, but listening was fine by me. I didn’t want to talk to him much. I wanted to listen to him. And I did.

I remember this kid a couple of seats along form me, who seemed very quiet and subdued. Listening intently, but he looked very nervous, depressed even.

Dennis noticed the kid, and made an effort to include him in the general banter, because he looked a little lonely and isolated. He had made an effort to come along, on what as a freezing night in midwinter, as we all had and no doubt enjoyed the show.

The show was primarily amusing stories. Like him and Thommo in tandem, not rating Geoff Boycott massively. I got the impression that had as much to with the fact as personalities they were quite different and probably rubbed each other up the wrong way. Dennis struck me as a typical no nonsense Aussie.

Unimpressed by royalty, he was no different in anyone's company. He would treat blokes as he found them. He would of course be extremely personable as long as they did not come across as superior and have airs and graces.

So a lasting impression of Dennis Keith Lillee. An awesome bowler and a hero as a cricketer. An all time cricket legend, but I suspect what he is most proud of, is the fact that he is recognised as a top bloke.



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