Imran Khan entered Test cricket as a medium pacer but later emerged as a genuine fast bowler.
The catalyst for this nuclear change was the great Australian player Dennis Lillee. In 2010, in an interview with Cricinfo, Imran Khan said that he decided to become a fast bowler after watching Lilly’s bowling in England in 1972.
He saw a genuine fast bowler bowling for the first time, as no such bowler had emerged in Pakistan till then. In Imran Khan’s opinion, if a batsman tries to dominate, you can only take revenge on him with fast bowling.
Interestingly, as a fast bowler, Imran Khan made the first impression on the minds of cricket fans in front of Dennis Lillee and received praise from him.
This was in January 1977. Imran Khan took 12 wickets against Australia in Sydney, was named Man of the Match, and was called the Hero of Sydney.
This Test was the foundation of the high rank he achieved in cricket. Earlier, he had failed to produce extraordinary performances in Test cricket.
After starting his Test career in 1971, he took 25 wickets in nine matches at an average of 43.52.
The Sydney Test brought the message of Rafat not only for Imran Khan but also for the Pakistan team, which won a Test match in Australia for the first time. After that, the slow journey to success in Test cricket also picked up speed after Sydney.
Dennis Lillee was a great bowler. There is not a word in it. Examining his relationship with Imran Khan reveals that he is also a great person.
In his book ‘My Life in Cricket’, he has openly praised Imran Khan’s game in Sydney. He has been described as a natural athlete, a combative bowler with deep understanding who does not give up.
In England in 1975, Lilly saw Imran Khan play and found him to be a mediocre medium pacer. A better batsman than a bowler, but now in his own country he was looking at a different Imran.
In the book, Lilly quotes Australian captain Greg Chappell as saying that Imran Khan’s bowling in the Sydney Test was one of the best performances he saw from the rival team’s bowlers.
Lily played an important role in Imran Khan’s success in Australia.
The Adelaide pitch in the first Test of the series against Australia in 1977 was not conducive to fast bowlers. The unfit Jeff Thomson added more weight to Lilly’s shoulders, but he did not give up and dismissed five men in 47.7 overs of eight balls in the second innings.
Imran Khan was impressed by his sincere determination. He describes him as a bowler who would always attack the opponents and brainstorm ways to get them out in different ways.
In the second Test of the series in Melbourne, the pitch was very favourable for the bowlers. So Imran was determined to make up for the failure in the first Test, but Australia scored 517 runs in the first innings of the match and did not get a wicket.
In this hour of desperation, none other than Lily gave him heart and guidance, which surprised Imran. Lily knew where Imran Khan went wrong. The point was that, unlike the previous Test, Imran got excited after seeing a wicket suitable for fast bowling in Melbourne, where the ball was swinging, and bowled more than necessary.
It was encouraging to him that Lily not only understood his problem but came to discuss it with him. According to Imran, ‘After that, we became good friends, and my bowling also improved.’
Imran Khan dismissed five players in the second innings of the Melbourne Test (his first career five-wicket haul in an innings) and then made history in Sydney (becoming only the second Pakistani bowler after Fazl Mahmood to take 10 wickets).
You have read above about Dennis Lillee’s run in the Adelaide Test. Imran also cites the example of the 1973 Sydney Test, in which Pakistan were in a strong position, but despite being unfit, Lilly insisted on bowling and teamed up with the inexperienced Max Walker to give Australia victory.
It is this quality of not giving up in adverse situations that made Lilly the number-one bowler in Imran Khan’s book. Imran Khan has ranked Lilly the highest in his list of favourite fast bowlers in Aap Beti’s ‘All Round View’.
Lilly commented on Imran Khan’s entire career in “Aap Beiti.”
He placed Imran Khan in the category of favourite bowlers and all-rounders. Imran Khan has been described as a very fit and lion-hearted fast bowler who can not only bowl fast but can also bowl long spells.
To Lilly’s knowledge, Imran’s aggressive approach made Pakistan a strong team in Tests and ODIs. According to him, Imran’s success in cricket and Pakistan’s emergence as a powerful nation in the world are not coincidental. They believe that Imran Khan was a dangerous bowler on any wicket and in almost all conditions.
In 1980, the Australian team came to Pakistan. The batsmen of both teams piled up runs on the dead pitch of the Faisalabad Test. Lilly angrily said that his grave should be built on this wicket.
In “My Life in Cricket,” Lilly wrote that Imran told him that Pakistan avoided taking quick wickets in the series because of the Australian fast bowlers.
According to Lilly, Imran Khan was disappointed with this strategy because the thinking behind neutralising the visiting team’s bowlers was not beneficial for Imran Khan as a bowler either.
The bright side of Lily and Imran Khan’s relationship is that both have not been stingy in acknowledging each other’s greatness.
They also have this in common: both of them retired from cricket due to unfitness but then returned with great glory.
On Australian soil, Imran Khan was blessed with two great joys in life. His journey to greatness as a cricketer, which began in Australia in 1977, culminated here on March 25, 1992, when Pakistan, led by Imran Khan, defeated England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to win the World Cup. What is your name?