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Thanks for the memories Picca

Worcestershire and England teammates Graham Dilley and Ian Botham sharing a joke at New Road

In the 1970s England didn’t really do fast bowlers. There was bustling Bob Willis of course, a flurry of pumping limbs and more effort put into each delivery than Michael Holding would bother with in an entire session, but realistically he was all there was. Men like Mike Hendrick, Chris Old and John Lever were good bowlers, but they weren’t a terrifying proposition by any means. There was Ian Botham too. He was pretty sharp, and when he bent his back he had all the aggression, but even then he was no more than fast-medium.

In 1978-79 Mike Brearley’s side hammered Australia 5-1 in Australia to retain the Ashes. The only problem was that it wasn’t a proper Australian team that was vanquished. The best Australian players were all contracted to Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, so to say the winning margin flattered England was something of an understatement.

Peace broke out in the cricket world the following year and that meant a revenue-raising trip down under for England in 1979/80. The trouble was the big names were all going to be back and the mini baggygreenwash that followed said all that needed to be said of the respective states of the nations.

England knew they were going to be in trouble against Australia’s first team and from the moment the tour was announced it was an open secret that the selectors would be casting around for a genuinely quick young bowler, eyes to the future and all that. It wasn’t a difficult choice as there were only two candidates, both 20 years of age and both talked about in glowing terms by their county’s supporters. The man who got the nod was Kent’s Graham Dilley – no one remembers the competition now, he of the quintessentially English name, Peter Hugh L’Estrange Wilson. “Flea”, as he was affectionately known to his teammates, showed great potential in 1979 but for once the selectors got it right as he failed to live up to his early promise.

For Dilley, who had worked at Hatton Garden as a diamond cutter after leaving school, the expectation was that he would largely be a spectator on the tour. He had, at just turned 18, made his Kent debut in 1977 but six wicketless overs as fifth change against Cambridge University didn’t cause any eyebrows to be raised. The following season he played four times, but despite a good performance against Middlesex in June when he took seven wickets, at the start of 1979 he wasn’t expected to be a regular member of the first team. In the event Kevin Jarvis was injured early on and Dilley took his chance and played a full season in which he took 49 wickets at 23 to bring himself to the selectors attention. Against Northamptonshire he rescued the Kent innings by top-scoring with 81 from number 10. He always looked like he could bat, but he never got another County Championship fifty despite playing on until 1992.

With Hendrick injured Dilley was preferred to John Lever for the first Test and took three wickets. He failed to add to that in the second and then injury, not for the last time by any means, ruled him out of the next Test. He did well against the West Indies in 1980 under Ian Botham’s captaincy, but less so in the Caribbean the following winter. In 1981 we had the visit of Australia for the series that will always be known as “Botham’s Ashes”. Dilley’s figures are deceptive – 14 wickets in three Tests at less than 20 each suggest he was bowling well but the truth was he was flattered by those figures and was bowling badly. Bereft of confidence he was not selected again after Headingley.

His poor bowling notwithstanding (he was entrusted with only two overs in Australia’s remarkable second innings collapse) Dilley’s contribution to that most famous of victories remains, for most, the defining moment of his career. On the fourth afternoon he joined Botham, now of course back in the ranks, when the 7th wicket fell at 135. England had three wickets in hand and 92 were still required to make Australia bat again. There was no pressure on Dilley and Botham and they threw their bats with gay abandon. The Kent fast bowler matched Botham shot for shot contributing 56, as against Botham’s 57, of their stand of 117. Had Terry Alderman not finally decided to come round the wicket to Dilley to cramp him up perhaps that 81 might have been threatened. As it was Dilley left with the job half done, but fortunately Botham, Old and Willis with the bat, and then Willis with the ball, did the rest.

As noted there were just the two overs for Dilley with the new ball in Australia’s second innings. After that he went off, feeling a thigh strain, before returning to the field after some strapping had been applied. No one who watched that innings unfold will ever forget it. Even as Australia embarked on their seemingly straightforward task there was a buzz of anticipation in the ground and in front of the nation’s televisions. By the time, just after lunch, when Chris Old dismissed Alan Border, I knew we were going to win. When Rod Marsh top edged Willis down towards fine leg there was never the slightest doubt in mind that Dilley would safely hold on to the catch. He was clearly worried about the location of the rope just behind him, and took the catch way over his head, but he took it sweetly. We learned later that his teammates did not share my confidence Brearley, the man with the degree in people, apparently saying to Botham with a shake of the head “Oh God, its Picca”. Botham, first to run up to Dilley might have congratulated him on the catch, but in fact told Dilley of his skipper’s lack of faith – go to youtube and watch Dilley’s phlegmatic reaction to Botham if you doubt me.

Within a month of Headingley Dilley’s crisis of form and confidence was such that he was playing for Kent Seconds, and it was a major surprise when he was selected to tour India that winter, but although he recorded his second Test, and third and final First Class half century, his bowling was disappointing and it was 1986 before he re-established his Test career. The highlight of Part 2 was his 5-68 at the ‘Gabba in the first Test of the 1986/87 Ashes series. There were five more five wicket hauls for Dilley before his Test career ended after the third Test of that dreadful 1989 Ashes series. In a career of as many as 41 Tests Dilley was on the winning side just twice, at Headingley and the ‘Gabba, but his final tally of 130 wickets at 29 apiece was, in a pretty poor side, a thoroughly respectable return.

At county level Dilley left Kent at the end of the 1986 season feeling that he was not adequately rewarded for his efforts. He moved to Worcestershire where, with Ian Botham, he helped galvanize the sleepy West Midland county into a power in the land – they won five trophies including two County Championships, during the five full seasons he spent with them before, after 1992, he left the First Class game and moved into coaching. His life after cricket was not, either personally or professionally, entirely straightforward, but he was on the right road when cancer tragically took him from us, at the age of just 52, earlier this week.

Graham Dilley was just a few months older than me and it is a sobering thought that a man whose entire Test career took place within my adulthood has passed away, the more so that it is Graham Dilley, the tall good-looking blonde bloke who caused a wave of interest in the game amongst a whole generation of young women. I actually managed to persuade my then girlfriend to join me at the Oval Test against West Indies in 1980. She only had eyes for Dilley of course, but I didn’t care – he bowled well and bloody quickly that Monday, and he wouldn’t have noticed her doe-eyed gaze anyway.

Thanks for the memories Picca.


Excellent read Martin, a very well constructed tribute to a man that I’m sure will be missed.

Comment by Woodster | 12:00am BST 6 October 2011

Seems like only yesterday he was picked as a raw 20 year old for the Australian Tour. I don’t think the intention at the time of his selection was to play him in the Test Matches. I can still hear Fred Trueman’s rant on TMS about how Dilley wasn’t good enough, had a terrible action and didn’t bowl the ball to the other end but just pushed it down. Brian Johnston thought Fred was being a bit harsh and asked who should have been chosen instead and Fred said Graham Stevenson of …………….drum roll…………..Yorkshire. Stevenson joined the tour late on and did quite well in a couple of ODI’s and performed okay in the Jubilee Test in India.

Like Martin, this was approaching the time when people being chosen for our sports teams were starting to be the same age as me or younger. Not something you worry too greatly about in your late teens but the current resident at Number 10 Downing Street means that for the first time ever even the bloody Prime Minister is younger.[IMG]http://www.cricketweb.net/forum/images/icons/icon7.gif[/IMG]

Comment by Lillian Thomson | 12:00am BST 7 October 2011

Ditto regarding the age thing. fwiw I think that Norman Cowans was the first England cricketer born after me.

As for Dilley, his test career was a strange thing. Looking back now, it seems unbelievable that he barely played a test between 1982 and 1986, but I don’t really remember how often he was fit enough to play. You’d have to say that a lot of worse bowlers played for us in those years though.

Comment by wpdavid | 12:00am BST 7 October 2011

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