As a lifelong Worcestershire fan, Graham Dilley is a cricketer who has always been close to my heart. He joined Worcs in 1987, at the same time as Ian Botham, in what was my first season as a junior member at New Road. It was a special time for the county – and a special time in my childhood.
Some of my fondest memories involve spending summer days under the chestnut trees at the county ground, watching that great Worcs side which won back to back championship titles in 1987 and 1988. When I heard about Dilley’s sudden death yesterday, it was a bolt from the blue.
Dilley wasn’t quite a great fast bowler – like so many of England’s best seamers, injury put paid to that – but he was an extremely useful one. He was pretty quick, moved the ball away from the right-handers, and played a part in two of England’s greatest Ashes triumphs. I’m referring, of course, to his defiant half century alongside Botham at Headingley in 1981, and his starring role in Mike Gatting’s series success down under in 1986-87.
From a personal point of view, however, it was Dilley’s success at Worcs that I will remember the most. He was the spearhead of what was possibly the best county bowling attack of the modern era: Dilley was joined by Neil Radford, Ian Botham, Phil Newport and Richard Illingworth. All of them represented England at one point or another, albeit not at the same time. Perhaps only the Lancashire side of the early nineties could match them.
Dilley, of course, was the best of the lot (Botham had lost a bit of pace by 1987). He took an almighty run up that made Allan Donald’s approach look like an off-spinner’s, reared his left leg horizontal in his delivery stride, pounded his leading boot into the turf, and followed through like a wind powered turbine. It was a great sight to behold. When the ball was taken behind the stumps by Steve Rhodes, usually standing nearer to the sight-screen than the stumps, the ball made an almighty thud.
Unlike some of county cricket’s other big names, Dilley always seemed happy to sign autographs at the end of the day. He was a gentle giant – and he possessed one of the best 80s blonde mullets outside of A-Ha.
Sports fans in Worcester will be particularly upset by Dilley’s premature passing because his son, Chris Pennell, is captain of Worcester Warriors, the city’s premiership rugby team. Let’s hope that the Warriors can put in a great performance against London Irish at the weekend, and earn a valuable victory in their quest to avoid relegation.
Somehow, somewhere – probably at that great fast bowlers’ union in the sky – Graham Dilley will be looking down and cheering the lads on.