I had been out for a meal with my parents after the first day's play of my Test debut in 1989. The game was not going particularly well for England with Australia, on a true Edgbaston pitch, being 232 for 4 overnight. As young men tend to do, I inquisitively looked in the bar at The Plough and Harrow Hotel in Birmingham before making my way to my room.
At the bar I noticed two of my team-mates – Ian Botham and Graham Dilley – sitting on stools with a pint of beer in one hand and a fag in the other. Being keen to strike up a relationship with two of my childhood heroes, and with my watch reading only 10pm, I wandered over, grabbed a stool and asked what they would like to drink.
In unison Botham and Dilley said: "What do you think you are doing?" Being naïve, I replied: "Having a quiet drink with you." "No you're not," came the terse response. Not wishing to be bullied I enquired, "Why?"
I didn't have to wait long for the answer. "Because you're bowling our bloody overs tomorrow, we're not bowling yours." I took the hint and quickly disappeared to bed, with a flea in my ear.
Graham Dilley may have been "old school" by that stage of his career, but when he first broke into the England side in the late Seventies he was anything but. Then, he was the blue-eyed boy of English cricket. He was big, blond, good-looking and strong, and he bowled bloody fast. Indeed, it was not a picture of Botham that adorned the wall of the bedroom I shared with my brother – it was an image of Dilley in full flow.
In fact, it was Dilley, with his graceful, gradually accelerating run-up, beautiful high action and drag, whom my brother and I used to try to imitate when we were playing cricket in the street, not Botham, Bob Willis or Mike Hendrick. At that stage of his career he was a fast bowler with the potential to lead England's attack for many years to come. Dilley was the bloke who was going to stick it to mighty West Indies.
Injury, probably the result of an action that put a huge amount of strain on his body, prevented Dilley from being one of England's greats, but 138 wickets at an average of 29.76 in 41 Tests is not a bad reward.
In many people's eyes Dilley will be remembered most for being the bloke who stood at the other end while Botham performed miracles against Australia at Headingley in 1981. Graham actually scored 56 of the 117 match-changing runs the pair put on together. He took two first-innings wickets and an important catch in the game too.
But my strongest memories of Graham came on England's 1986-87 tour of Australia. Being able to watch England play in the middle of the night was a new experience back then and it was a great way for an aspiring young cricketer to pass a winter. Along with Botham, it was Chris Broad who grabbed most of the headlines on that Ashes-winning tour, but it was Dilley who helped set it up. It was Dilley who took five quality wickets in Australia's first innings at The Gabba after Botham had struck a punishing 138. Dilley backed that up with four top-order wickets in the second Test in Perth. These were bowling displays that set the tone for the remainder of the series.
My debut happened to be his last Test. By 1989, Dilley probably realised his time as an international cricketer was nearly up. Indeed, during that summer he and a number of other England players chose to turn down the chance of playing for their country to go and earn substantial sums of money on a rebel tour of South Africa. While I don't condone the tour, I could understand why it would be attractive to an ageing fast bowler with wonky knees.
Before drifting into the sunset, Dilley produced one final display of brilliant fast bowling. It was for Worcestershire, a county he helped to win two County Championships in 1988 and 1989, against Lancashire at Old Trafford in 1989. It was the game immediately after his last Test and it showed how much his adopted county meant to him. The pitch was fast and Lancashire had a team containing nine international cricketers. Dilley bowled with blistering pace and had match figures of 10 for 124 in the game.
Michael Atherton, fresh from Cambridge University, played in the match. Athers said: "Facing a bowler of such hostility was a new experience for me. Graham was physically imposing, he loomed large at the crease and he bowled bloody quick. A lot is made of bowlers bowling a heavy ball but he bowled the original heavy ball. You feared for your ribs and he hit the bat extremely hard."
Before the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Middlesex used the facilities at Loughborough University, where Dilley was in charge of cricket. I had the pleasure of working with him then and he was as accommodating and helpful as anyone could be. It is extremely sad that such a wonderful talent and decent man is no longer with us.Reuse content