Story behind Dennis Lillee’s bizarre aluminium bat
December 15, 1979, WACA Ground, first Test, Australia v England
AS ENGLAND boasts the many marvels of Headingley, Australia has the WACA Ground, a Test cricket venue where all manner of controversies and heroics have played out since the first Test there in 1970.
There were the batting heroics of Doug Walters and Roy Fredericks, the hat-trick performed over three separate overs and two innings by Merv Hughes, and the unbroken 464-run partnership by the Waugh twins - Steve and Mark - for NSW in 1990.
And then there have been the not so savoury, such as Andrew Hilditch being given out "handled ball" after a callous appeal from Sarfraz Nawaz, and Dennis Lillee kicking Javed Miandad in a Test.
Or Lillee again when 40 years ago today he strode to the wicket on day two wielding an aluminium bat. Australia's overnight score was 8-232 with Australia's greatest paceman on 11 not out.
All appeared normal enough, although with Lillee only a fool would assume excitement wasn't far away.
Graham Monoghan, a mate of Lillee's, had designed an aluminium bat known as the ComBat.
It had been inspired by the transition in baseball from wooden to metal bats.
Monoghan had identified a potential market and where better to launch his dream than an Ashes series Test via his business partner, Lillee.
What remains unknown to most is that Lillee first used the bat two weeks earlier at the Gabba in a Test against the West Indies.
It was a peculiar piece of programming that had Australia playing alternate matches at home in two three-Test series against the West Indies and England.
Lillee's batting contribution in the Gabba Test was a duck from seven deliveries. His revolutionary bat went under the radar until Perth.
"People still ask me why I used it in a Test. It was a marketing ploy and one I'm not ashamed of as we wanted the bat to get some exposure for Christmas sales," Lillee said before the bat was banned.
"That bat was not designed or made for first-class cricket. At half the price of a willow bat, we thought it would be useful for schools cricket, nets and for underdeveloped countries.
"We had checked the rules and it wasn't illegal (at that stage), so we thought, why not? It did make a hell of a clunk, which made a few people laugh."
Australia's Test captain, Greg Chappell, was not one of those who shared in the merriment when a classical Lillee cover drive off Ian Botham surprisingly pulled up short of the boundary, costing the Australians a run.
England captain Mike Brearley complained to the umpires that the bat was ruining the ball, while Chappell immediately instructed 12th man Rodney Hogg to run some traditional willow bats out to Lillee.
"I knew Dennis wouldn't want me out there so I started fossicking around the rooms for as long as I could, before Greg screamed at me to hurry up," Hogg said.
"I took a couple of bats out to Dennis and told him they felt really good. He looked at me and said, 'How would you bloody know?', which I thought was rude. Then he told me to, 'Piss off, and tell Chappell he can do the same.'
"Dennis had turned his back on me and I looked like a complete dickhead on national television, so I started walking back to the dressing rooms but bloody Greg was standing there yelling at me again to go back to Dennis.
"Fortunately, umpire Max O'Connell convinced Dennis he had to change bats, so he walked off the ground until his mate Rod Marsh said there was nothing in the rules preventing him using the bats, so the whole thing started again. Greg asked me what Dennis had said out in the middle, and I repeated "get stuffed" or words to that effect.
"But Greg thought that was my response, prompting him to utter some of the most hurtful words ever directed to me which were: 'Hoggy, you're an idiot, the worst 12th man Australia's ever had.'
"I thought about it later and while he clearly had a point, how did he know I was worse than a couple of blokes back in 1890?
"Anyway, umpire O'Connell saw Dennis coming back and told him to stop. That's when Dennis broke the world record for throwing an aluminium bat, and Greg, who seemed to have lost trust in me, took out a willow replacement and told him to get on with the game."
Earlier this year in Malvern, Worcestershire, a collection of cricket memorabilia belonging to bat manufacturer Duncan Fearnley was offered by the John Goodwin auction house.
Despite some extremely respected pieces of willow on offer, Lillee's ComBat was the centre of attention before it sold via a phone bid for £5200, or just under $A10,000.
Ever the opportunist (the same man had once asked the Queen for her autograph), Lillee had asked each side to sign the bat after the Test finished in an Australian victory by 138 runs.
Brearley was the only player who refused to sign, instead writing "good luck with the sales".