Adam Gilchrist – The cricketer of a lifetime

It’s hard to write a piece that does justice to Adam Gilchrist. Firstly, there is the practicality of seeing the screen through teary and bloodshot eyes. The keyboard refuses to work, shorted out by a flood of tears. Then the there is the shock – while on the one hand, retirement could be expected from one so advanced in years, yet many of us lived in denial, thinking that Gilly would go on forever. But most of all, writing an article befitting the great man is difficult simply because I am but an ordinary scribe, and Gilchrist was anything but an ordinary cricketer. He was extraordinary.

We have not seen Gilchrist consistently at the peak of his powers for 2-3 years now. Of course, in the past twelve months we have been treated to some truly momentous innings, but they have been peaks with increasingly long troughs.

Adam Gilchrist was just under 25 years of age when he made his first appearance for Australia, on 25 Oct 1996. That was a one day match against South Africa, as he stepped in for a couple of matches for the injured Ian Healy. At the end of the next summer, the one day revolution began and as Tubby and Heals faced the firing squad, Gilly became a permanent member of the One Day team.

Gilchrist had to wait until November 1999 – another two and a half years – for his Test debut. For me, his transition into the team is one of the intangible barometers of Gilly’s greatness. I was a big Ian Healy fan. Huge. He was a great gloveman and I think most would say that Gilchrist never quite achieved his standards. As a batsman, Healy was a fighter. He was a gritty, determined and could nudge, deflect and graft a score. He made runs when Australia needed them most and had no less than four Test centuries and 22 half centuries to his name. Not too bad – he could easily lay claim to being the best keeper batsman in the world. Then Gilchrist strode up and on his first attempt, stroked 81 from 88 balls against Pakistan. While it should be remembered that he was only the fifth top scorer for the innings (and was indeed behind Warnie), he did make it look rather easy. After just one match, memories of Healy started to fade.

In Gilchrist’s second match, he really showed the world what Adam Gilchrist was made of. Gilchrist made his way to the crease in the final innings of the match with Australia 5-126, chasing 369 for victory. With the confidence and ease that came to typify Gilchrist, he smashed a chanceless 149 runs from just 163 balls, departing with Australia just 5 runs short of victory. While Langer stole the man of the match award, it was Gilchrist who stole the match from Pakistan. Remind me again, “Ian who?”. As it turned out, Steve Waugh has Gilly to thank for the record 16 match winning streak – that was the second match of the 16.

Over the next few seasons, Gilly kept well – that is, his keeping was of international standard, without being Don Tallon. And he scored like a machine. No. Machine creates the wrong impression – while he was as reliable as a machine, the manner in which he scored, went way beyond mere machinery. Most of his hundreds were scored at better than a run per ball and yet he averaged more than 60 for several years. Gilchrist could take a match away from an opponent in a session. One of the tangible measures of Gilchrist’s greatness is that his Test strike rate (runs scored per hundred balls) is the best of anyone and yet he still averaged almost 48 (and averaged more than 50 for most of his career – until the end of 2005).

I believe that Gilchrist was at his peak in early 2002 when he toured South Africa. He gave them a mauling that would not be forgotten. He scored 204* (the fastest 200 in history at the time), 138*, 24, 91 and 16. To score 366 runs at better than a run a ball without getting out, defied belief. The South Africans could not believe it. And it was all a bonus for Australia – this was the wicket keeper – not even one of the top six. Gilly was dubbed the best number seven ever, and it is hard indeed to argue with that. Gilchrist’s achievements were acknowledged as he was named the Wisden Cricketer of the Year for 2002.

Over his career, Gilchrist’s batting saved and won many, many matches for Australia. For more details and analysis see “Anything but an Arthur Morris” (http://www.dongles.org/cgi-bin/article_display.pl?article=20050415.txt). He was still doing it in March 2005 as along with Katich, he saved the Aussie’s hides against New Zealand. That was another hot streak, in that series he made 121, 162 and 60*. Ponting can also thank Gilly for “his” 16 match winning streak. I draw your attention to Fatullah, April 2006. It may have been “only Bangladesh” but Australia was 6-93, chasing 427. Oh dear. Gilchrist made 144 out of 269 and Australia scraped out of the match by 3 wickets. That was match six of the streak.

In the past twelve months, though he may have fallen away, Gilchrist has treated us to two of the landmark innings of all time. In the 2006-07 Ashes series, he made the second fastest Test hundred ever (not counting the second hundred of Nathan Astle’s iconic double century) – a 57 ball effort in Perth. The hitting in that had to be seen to be believed. As Jim Maxwell said, “Take me out to the ball game.” For me, it typified Gilchrist. He always had the ability to tee off and score in bursts that didn’t seem to be possible. The first 50 of that innings came from 40 balls – pretty good going but not unexpected from Gilchrist. The next fifty came from just 17 balls. Holy smokes, Batman.

Gillie’s second gift to the cricketing world was at the 2007 World Cup. The final, no less. After dozing his way through the lead up matches and the semi-final, Gilchrist awoke with an “innings to behold” as his captain was moved to declare, in a rare display of eloquence. In a rain shortened match (38 overs), Gilchrist still managed to score 149 and get out with 7 overs to spare. His innings was 104 balls and included 8 sixes.

In 96 Tests, Gilchrist scored 5,570 runs – more than any other keeper/batsman (I’m not counting Sangakkara here because he has not always played as wicketkeeper). He made 17 hundreds and 26 half centuries. Gilchrist cleared the boundary exactly 100 times – more than anyone else in Test cricket. He leaves the game with 416 Test dismissals – more than anyone else. Boucher will overtake him again shortly but like Lillee, Border and Warne before him, it seems fitting for Gilly to leave on top.

Captain Gilly lead his side a total of 6 times when Waugh and Ponting had injuries. He was in charge for the first three Tests of the famous victory in India. Australia was up 2-0 (thus securing the series) before Ponting took over to lose the final match. While it may not have been due to the Gillie touch, the fact is that Gillie was captain when Australia finally won in India. The Chappells couldn’t do it. Tubby failed. Steve Waugh was driven to despair and Ponting still hasn’t done it (and I don’t like his chances). But Gillie did it.

I have rather focussed on Gilchrist’s Test cricket career. It’s obvious that he was a giant in One Day Cricket. He was voted by his piers the best Australian One Day cricketer of all time. He was the international One Day Cricket of the Year in 2003 and 2004. He played in three World Cups, all of them won by Australia and scored at least 50 in all three finals. He has scored over 9,297 runs with a high score of 172. He scored 15 centuries (including the third highest by an Australian) and 53 half centuries. And let’s not forget that he transitioned from number seven in Tests to opener in One Day cricket, without batting an eyelid. From his 277 matches, he has claimed 454 dismissals.

When it comes to mere stats, although Gilly is up there, he is not at the top of the heap. When it came to watching him bat, he was at the top. I saw Gilchrist in full cry at the SCG on one occasion. It was against Pakistan and he started the day having been not out over night. He passed the hundred and scored 95 runs in 100 minutes. That included 5 sixes in the space of about 10 balls (see http://www.dongles.org/cgi-bin/article_display.pl?article=20050106.txt). I’ve heard Gilchrist mentioned in the same breath as Graeme Pollock and Garfield Sobers. Now that is something. As Gilchrist left the field for the final time, Richie described him as one of the greatest players he has ever seen. And Richie has seen some.

But there is even more to Gillie than that. Madeleine, my 14 year old daughter cried – really cried – sobbed – when Gilchrist announced his retirement. She cried when he was dismissed for a disappointing (except for nearly taking Billie Bowden’s head off) 14. Why was that? Not a tear was shed for Warne, McGrath or Langer. This is the reason: Gillie was the player of dreams. The player of legend. He wasn’t just the player of a generation, but he was the player of a lifetime. Through all of his staggering achievements, he kept his feet on the ground and remained true to himself. He was candid, affable and approachable and in my view, remained humble. He always showed respect for those in authority (even the coach) and spoke well of his piers and superiors. I was always impressed by the way Gilly spoke of Healy, while he patiently waited his turn to don the whites. While his powers may have faded slightly in recent years, you wait and see. In 2099, when a panel of people not yet alive, vote on the five players of the century, Gilly will be one of them. Over the years, the legend will grow – the astonishing things that he has done over the past decade, that we have come to take for granted, will be re-visited, relived and cherished so that Gillie will take his rightful place alongside the very greatest cricketers.

In closing, as a demonstration of how a grown man can be moved to write poetry, I’ll republish a poem that I wrote in honour of Gilchrist’s tour of South Africa in 2002:

Adam Gilchrist – A Cricketer who Matters

What can you say about Gilly?
The ice in his veins is chilly.
He has an eye like a hawk and timing so sweet
He swings freely and often, and is light on his feet.

His defence is attack with flashing blade
It’s hard to keep count of the runs he’s made.
The score board spins as he clubs away
The bowlers look on in utter dismay.

Over the top or through the field,
Those bullet like shots net a heavy yield.
And when the opposition is on its knees
He keeps on going, his captain to please.

By dongles, 11 March 2002

One thought on “Adam Gilchrist – The cricketer of a lifetime

Leave a Reply