And Gilmour’s Wielding Willow Like an Axe: Gary Gilmour Memorial Edition

Australian allrounder, Gary Gilmour has died.  He would have turned 63 later this month.  This is the second obituary I have written for the men immortalised in the World Series Cricket jingle, ‘Come On Aussie, Come On’, the first being just over ten years ago, for David Hookes.  I guess in years to come, I will write many more for sadly, men cannot be literally immortalized in song, only their memories.  But hopefully I shall not have to write another for a long time yet.  It is still too soon for those cricketing heroes of the seventies.

Gary Gilmour was one of my favourites.  One of the reasons for this was that he was part of Ian Chappell’s larger than life team of the mid-seventies – the team that was central to the WSC jingle.  This was at a time when I was falling in love with cricket and it was easy enough for a young lad to be romanced by that band of ruffians.  The other reason that I was vitally interested in Gilmour’s endeavours was that my Godfather, Uncle Ross (or ‘Uncle Rock’, as I called him) claimed to have hit Gary Gilmour for six!  Whether this is true or not, I’m not completely sure.  Aunty Maureen always told Ross to ‘stop fanticising and stop lying to the boy’ but that may just have been to wind her husband up.  The blessed event is said to have been during a net session some time in the early seventies.  Both men are Newcastle boys and it is quite credible.  And as fate would have it, both men suffered similar afflictions with weight and gout.

So for those reasons, I had a heightened interest in the plight of Gary Gilmour starting in the summer of 1975-76 – that famous summer against the West Indies.  For some reason, I remember when Gilmour was run out for 20 at a crucial stage in the 4th Test.  Those 20 runs came from just 13 balls and included three fours and a six.  Greg Ghappell ran him out and was very distressed.  Not to worry though.  He made 182 not out anyway.

In the 5th Test, Gilmour hurtled towards his maiden Test century and had made 95 runs from just 93 balls.  I can still see him holing out to Michael Holding at long on from the bowling of Lance Gibbs.  My young mind (just eight years old) recorded that as a squandered opportunity.  Why would you play such a risky shot when so close to a century?  Gilmour appeared to going for glory by hitting a six to bring up the landmark.  And how could you get out to a tame, old off spinner?  (I didn’t appreciate at that time that Lance Gibbs was one of the greatest spinners of all time and I think, in that very series, he became the world record holder for Test wickets).  But studying the scorecard now, all these years later, I can see a different picture.  Gilmour was the last man to fall and was batting with Lillee.  And had been for some time.  They had put on 56 for the last wicket and it was understandable that Gilmour was opening his shoulders.  And it is the way he played.  He was a bit like Gilchrist (but not as good).  A player who backs himself, and plays his shots no matter whether he is 0 or 99 is begs admiration.

I also have an obscure memory of the West Indies having to start an innings just before a lunch break.  There was time for just one over before the break and Greg Chappell threw the ball to Gilmour.  This was a shock move as Lillee and Thommo were definitely the opening combination in that series.  But Gus claimed Roy Fredericks, lbw with the second ball of the innings.  Why did Chappell make that inspired move?  Some speculated at the time that it was to get a left hander bowling to the left-handed Fredericks.  But looking now at the scorecard of the 5th Test, it seems that was just 2 balls after Gilmour was dismissed for 95 and perhaps Chappell may have been wanting to channel some adrenalin.

I remember Gilmour’s first and only Test century, which came just over a year later.  I had to listen to that on ABC radio as it was in Christchurch.  Gilmour peeled off 101 from 146 balls in a century that included an incredible 86 in boundaries (20 x 4 and 1 x 6).  Gilmour shared a 217 run stand with Doug Walters (250).

But Gilmour’s most famous moment came before I became a cricket tragic.  That was the semifinal of the inaugural One Day cricket World Cup.  On 18 June 1975, Gary Gilmour was just a week off his 24th birthday when he announced himself on the world stage.  He took a stunning 6-14 from his 12 overs as England were cleaned up for just 93.  In 2002, Wisden rated this performance as the best ODI bowling performance of all time and I doubt it has been surpassed in the last 12 years.  Gilmour then rescued Australia’s faltering chase.  He came in with the score 6-39 and smashed 28 from as many balls.  I don’t know that they had man-of-the-match awards back then but if they did, the choice was rather obvious.  Australia went on to lose a thrilling final to the West Indies but Gilmour took a rather useful 5-48 in that match.  So in a very brief ODI career, Gilmour took 16 wickets in just five matches at an average of 10.31.

On reflection, there are similarities between Hookes and Gilmour that go beyond being hard hitting, left handed batsmen:  Despite being iconised in an extraordinary era of cricket, they didn’t play as much international cricket as you would expect and their stats, at face value, are not consistent with being legends of the game.  In my obituary for Hookes, I explored why he didn’t play more Tests.  That was revealing research for me and the reasons seemed many and complex.

Gilmour, on the other hand, played just 15 Tests and was finished in First Class cricket by the age of 27.  Gilmour’s short career would seem to have simpler explanations – he drank too much and didn’t train hard enough.  I don’t want to bag a man in his obituary but I do want to look at the truth.  Gilmour is admired by one and all as a man who had prodigious talent.  He could do anything – bowl like Akram, bat like Gilchrist, catch like Mark Waugh and throw like Michael Clarke.  And that was just cricket.  He could kick a ball a mile, play tennis like Neale Fraser and could have pitched for the Red Sox.  He was one of those sporting geniuses.  Furthermore, he was loved by all and sundry.  He was a good natured larrikin and his disinterest in hard training seemed only to add to his appeal.

This is a very Australian thing.  Take a bloke like Langer.  As far as international batsmen go, he was a bit of a Ringo Starr.  He had limited ability.  Yet, nobody worked harder than Justin Langer and he achieved great things.  He made sure that he made the most of his abilities.  Really, that should be admired.  But in Australia, it doesn’t seem to be.  If anything, Langer is looked upon with condescension simply because he wasn’t as naturally gifted as Mark Waugh, Gilchrist or Hayden.  Conversely, a guy who smokes and drinks and warms up by throwing a few darts (Walters) is hero worshipped solely because he was lucky enough to be born with freakish ability.

Gary Gilmour’s 15 Tests realised 483 runs at an average of 23.  He scored one century and three fifties.  Those numbers are similar to Wasim Akram’s on a pro rata basis.  He took 54 wickets at 26.03 and took five wickets in an innings three times.  Those are good numbers.  Gilmour had huge ability and potential and it is tempting to think that it is a shame that he didn’t achieve more.  However, Gilmour himself said he wouldn’t have enjoyed playing today.  Gilmour said in an interview in 2003 that he would not have enjoyed playing in the modern era. “I couldn’t play under today’s conditions, what with the travelling and training and scientific aspects,” he said. “It’s not a sport anymore, it’s like going to work. You know how some mornings you get up and don’t want to go to work – that’s how I’d feel playing cricket these days. I’d clock on for a sickie.”

So who is to judge?  Gilmour saw cricket as a game and part of the fun of life.  Some people are results driven and some enjoy the ride.  It seems that Gary Gilmour had a bit of the Keith Miller in him as well.  That is further put into perspective when you consider that the man died so young.  Our hearts must go out to the Gilmour family (wife, Helen and surviving siblings, Brooke, Ben and Sam) who are now grieving their husband and father, having recently lost Gilmour’s son, Clint, to cancer.

Gus, I’m sure Uncle Rock will remember you as the Test bowler he hit for six but I will remember you tonking sixes and cleaning up right handers with beautiful inswingers.

2 thoughts on “And Gilmour’s Wielding Willow Like an Axe: Gary Gilmour Memorial Edition

  1. Thanks andrewg. Good point about Hussey. I chose Langer as an example of someone who got the most out of their ability. I was thinking this morning that Hussey would be another such example and he certainly is not at all maligned. So I guess personality is also part of who is popular and who is not.

  2. nice article dongles. i too have fond memories of the enigmatic gus. so much talent. imagine if he was a focused guy like a hussey…he could have been anything!

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