Graham Dilley: Blond bombshell who had a glorious day in the sun

A ferocious bowler and inspirational coach whose Headingley heroics will always live in the memory

Graham Dilley was a blond bombshell of a fast bowler. He burst on to the scene with a chest-on action, piercing blue eyes and plenty of attitude. Eventually, if briefly, he lived up to the early billing. He was fast, ferocious, menacing and taking wickets.

After retirement, somewhat at odds with the boy of his earlier playing days, he became a thoughtful, inspirational, if occasionally insular coach. Dilley invigorated several generations of talented student cricketers and, had he been given the opportunity, he would have prospered at a higher level.

But his career and much of his life were somehow enshrined in a single summer afternoon. When Dilley died yesterday at the age of 52, the tributes to his achievements paid due regard to his status as one of the quickest of all England's bowlers and to his role as a quietly successful coach at Loughborough University.

The centrepiece, however, was what happened on 20 July, 1981, at Headingley cricket ground in Leeds. Dilley it was that day who launched the counter-attack against Australia which allowed England to go on to win the Test match and a month later the Ashes.

His utterly improbable partnership with Ian Botham started with England at 135 for 7 in their second innings, still 92 runs behind after following on. They shared an eighth-wicket stand of 117, matching flashing blade with flashing blade.

Dilley began the romp, recognising that England had nothing to lose. His early, optimistic swishes missed but soon he was making contact with some serious off-drives and vicious pulls. In recalling his innings of 56 when the match's 30th anniversary came round last July, Dilley said: "It wasn't particularly premeditated but if it was on the stumps I blocked it and if it wasn't I tried to thump it."

Botham soon joined in and went on to make 149 not out, which gave England a crucial lead of 130. From there, Australia imploded. England won by 18 runs. For once the papers could say it was the greatest match ever played and be telling the truth.

What few knew was that Dilley was suffering a crisis of form and of confidence as fast bowler. He did not play for the rest of the series and finished the season consigned to Kent second XI.

It took time for Dilley to work his way back and he needed first to overcome a severe neck injury, which required delicate surgery. But his cussed nature ensured that he made it all right. Dilley was stubborn and principled. He left Kent – the county of his birth – for Worcestershire because he did not like the way that things were going.

By the time of Mike Gatting's Ashes tour of 1986-87, he was almost fully restored and his 5 for 68 in the first Test of that series in Brisbane put Australia on the back foot. Dilley finished with 138 Test wickets at 29.76 each, taking them more cheaply as time went on, but then, fast bowler's body all but spent, he went on a rebel tour of South Africa purely for the cash.

He first came to prominence in the summer of 1979 when he was 20 and as quick as a bushfire and anything seemed possible. He remains the seventh youngest to have played for England. There was then and there remained a brooding side to his character which never quite disappeared. He found some fulfilment in coaching the student cricketers of Loughborough and coaching them to win too.

But somehow Headingley '81 hung about him. "I don't spend too much time thinking about it," he said last July. "I am happy there are games that England have played that people think are better than that one." Not many, not ever.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement