Born near Bedford to John and Ann Pilling, Dick moved to Church, Accrington, Lancashire in his infancy, which is where he made his name as one of the finest wicket-keepers of his time. In a first-class career lasting from 1877 to 1889 he played 250 matches, 8 of which were Test matches. In 1889 he was awarded a benefit by Lancashire: he raised 1,500.
His first appearance in the Lancashire eleven dates back to the season of 1877. His appearance for Lancashire was very happily timed, as, with Mr. E. Jackson so often prevented by business reasons from playing, the northern county might have been left without a first-class wicket-keeper. Almost from the first time he was seen in the Lancashire team it was felt that a great wicket-keeper had arisen, and he at once sprang into the front rank. From August, 1877, down to the end of the season of 1889 he was a regular member of the Lancashire eleven, and several pages of Wisden might easily be filled with a record of his doings. For all the hard work he has done in the cricket field, Pilling was never constitutionally robust, and the serious illness which kept him out of the cricket field in 1890 originated in a severe cold which he caught during the winter when taking part in a football match. At the end of the summer he journeyed to Australia for the benefit of his health, leaving in the same steamer that took a large proportion of the Australian team. In 1891, Pilling was rated by Wisden to the second-best wicket-keeper in the world, with Jack Blackham being rated the best. His style was described as the perfection of neatness and rapidity, without the least unnecessary show.
Pilling visited Australia with Alfred Shaw and Shrewsbury’s team in 1881/2, and went out again under the same auspices in the winter of 1887/8, and it was on these tours and in games played at Lancashire’s home ground of Old Trafford that he played his Test matches. At the time, it was feared that much of his subsequent ill-health dates from a sunstroke that he suffered during the former of these trips. As a batsman Pilling had an excellent style, and had often done capital work for his county. This led to Pilling being named as the Wisden Wicket-keeper of the Year in 1891. Unfortunately the accolade turned out to be a posthumous one. To try to improve his deteriorating health, he was sent on a cruise to Australia by Lancashire County Cricket Club in the winter 1890/1. It did not work, and Pilling died six days after returning home.
Pilling was a stonemason by trade, and had a wife, Emma, and at least one child, Mary.