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‘I only shake hands with fast bowlers’ – How Ian Chappell riled Dennis Lillee out of early retirement

by Wisden Staff 4 minute read

Ian Chappell narrated an incident related to Dennis Lillee’s supposed retirement speech explaining how the former Australia skipper got Lillee to change his mind about hanging up his boots.

On the 81 All Out podcast, Chappell discussed how, as captain, he handled and understood his fast bowlers. He recounted an incident related to Lillee in particular.

“You didn’t just gain Dennis’s respect by putting in an extra slip whatever. I remember, and by this stage I had captained Dennis for a long time, I understood him and after the first year of World Series Cricket, he had a bit of an ankle injury,” Chappell went on, “He wasn’t at his fittest, and he certainly wasn’t at his best. But even Dennis Lillee injured is a difficult customer to go up against.”

Chappell then discussed how during an end-of-the-season hotel get-together, Lillee came up with what seemed like a retirement speech.

“At the end of the season, we were at the old Melbourne hotel, and we were sort of having farewell drinks there, and Dennis came up to me and he put his hand out. He made a speech and he said, ‘Shake my hand’, he put his hand out”.

Chappell believed that Lillee was calling it a day: “And I thought this sounds like a retirement speech to me, and we don’t need Dennis Lillee retiring. He has a lot more to give. This would’ve been early 78 or March ’78 somewhere.”

Chappell then fired back with an insult that rattled the pacer.

“And so I said to him, ‘Mate, I don’t shake hands with medium-pacers. I only shake hands with fast bowlers’. And I had a pretty fair idea what was coming at you: Whack, and he’s punched me in the stomach, I was sort of half-ready for it. Anyhow, he put his hand out again, and he said, ‘Shake my hand!’

“And I said, “Mate, I’m telling you I only shake hands with fast bowlers, not medium-pacers.” And obviously, by now I’m ready. Anyhow, three times he punched me in the guts and I can’t completely repeat what he said but after the third time, he said, “Bugger you, I’ll take more wickets than anybody else next season in World Series Cricket’, and off he walked.”

By the end of this exchange, Chappell had achieved what he wanted: “And what did he do in the second season of World Series Cricket, took more wickets than anybody else. ”

Lillee would eventually retire in 1984, with 355 Test wickets to his name.

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