Destructive with the bat

MALCOLM CONN

THE Adam Gilchrist phenomenon keeps rolling on. His brilliant run a ball century against India in Mumbai a year ago has now been superseded by a more brilliant double century which officially lists him as one of the most destructive batsmen in the world.

VIVEK BENDRE

That he is also a wicket-keeper makes Gilchrist one of the greatest allrounders ever to play the game. In 29 Tests he has now made 1891 runs at 57.3, the best average ever by a permanent gloveman, and he has five centuries.

The only other long-standing wicket-keeper in cricket history to average above 50 is Zimbabwe's Andy Flower, who has 4404 runs at 53.71 from 55 Tests in which he has been a gloveman. Flower has played other Tests as a batsman only, including the recent match against India at Nagpur.

This has been a difficult season on and off the field for Gilchrist, making the spectacular double century against South Africa in the first Test, which Australia won by an innings and 360 runs inside three days, all the more remarkable.

By smashing 200 in 212 balls and blowing South Africa away at the Wanderers, he broke the record of 220 balls set by Ian Botham for the fastest double century in Test history,

Gilchrist's 204 not out from just 213 balls, scored inside five hours with 19 fours and eight sixes, was just the fourth double hundred by a number seven batsman and the fifth by a wicket-keeper.

His explosive batting overshadowed another fine century from Damien Martyn, who combined with his fellow-West Australian for a sixth-wicket partnership of 317 in six hours and 13 minutes from 379 balls with 32 fours and six sixes.

It was the second highest sixth wicket partnership ever, bettered only by the 346 put on by Don Bradman and Jack Fingleton against England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1936-37.

However, that was a quirk of history because Bradman sent the tail in first on a wet wicket and batted later when it had dried out.

Not surprisingly, Bradman's 270 in that innings is the highest score by a number seven batsman. The only other number seven batsmen to make double hundreds were West Indian Denis Atkinson with 219 against Australia in Barbados during 1954-55 and Jack Ryder, 201 not out for Australia against England in Adelaide during 1924-25.

Wicket-keepers to have scored double hundreds are Zimbabwe's Andy Flower (232 not out), Pakistan's Taslim Arif (210 not out) and Imtiaz Ahmed (209) and Sri Lanka's Brendon Kuruppu (201 not out).

Gilchrist's whirlwind innings came after an uncharacteristic two-month lean spell, when he failed to score a half-century in the Test series against South Africa or in the following one-day tournament, a major reason why Australia missed the home one-day finals for just the third time in the 23-year history of the competition.

This poor run coincided with the birth of his first child Harrison in late December, with Gilchrist arriving in Melbourne only late on Christmas day to play the Boxing Day Test.

"I hadn't scored a big score for a fair while and I am thrilled to get to that achievement. They are very special, some more than others, especially when you are away from home," he said.

"You are a long time on the road and miss friends and family. It is nice to know you have the support of your team-mates who are a fantastic bunch of guys who are very supportive all the time.

"We are all under pressure and miss our family and partners. It has been a full on summer in that regard with Harrison being born. "Everyone knows I missed a (one-day) game to be with (wife) Mel and Harrison during a tough period. It shows they are very special."

During his brutal innings Gilchrist almost struck gold, literally, when a six went close to hitting the sign of a sponsor offering an ingot worth more than $US100,000 to any batsman who could complete the feat.

Down on one knee, the left-hander swung a delivery from occasional medium pacer Neil McKenzie high over square leg. Much to Gilchrist's dismay, he hit the ball too well and it disappeared out of the ground, forcing the umpires to call for a replacement.

"I was a bit disappointed I didn't hit it, but not as much as my team-mates," Gilchrist said with a smile. "They all rubbed their hands together thinking they were going to get the loot. It was a bit of excitement value and entertainment for everyone.

"Maybe next time. I wasn't trying to hit it. I was just trying to execute the shot but obviously with fielders out there I wanted to go over them.

"Once the ball was in the air I realised it was half a chance and I encouraged it on but I should have pulled it back."

Gilchrist rated Australia's stunning victory as the best he had been involved with.

"This side has achieved some quite amazing results since I've been in the team but our victory at Wanderers was the most spectacular," he said.

"It is impossible to play the perfect game of cricket but there were times during this match that I felt we had come closer to achieving this than on any other occasion during three and a half hectic and fulfilling years of my international cricket career.

"I was lucky enough to play in the last 15 of Australia's record 16 successive Test victories. We have white-washed Pakistan, India, the West Indies and South Africa at home and New Zealand away and won a seventh successive Ashes series in England last year.

"Yet never have I felt we were more on our game than on this tour. Every batsman made runs. Every bowler took wickets. There was not a single part of our game that did not click into place.

"It was such an awesome performance and so much more pleasing to us given the unsettled few days around the start of the tour when our Test captain Steve Waugh was dropped from the one-day side and replaced as limited overs captain by Ricky Ponting.

"Given the perception of our unsettled arrival there were suggestions that we would not be focussed and up for this series. Steve Waugh has led from the front to ensure we would triumph here but it was beyond any of our wildest dreams that we would play such clinically excellent cricket against a side challenging us for the world Test championship."

Gilchrist said the extent of his amazing innings had not yet registered with him.

"To have made an unbeaten double century remains surreal," he said. "I know it is something that will be very important when I look back in time but just at the moment it does not feel as though it was really me out there in the middle when records were being set.

"Nor can I comprehend being listed with some of the great names in Test history. To see on the scoreboard that my double century overtook Ian Botham's as the fastest in the game has simply not sunk in. Getting to a hundred was a massive relief given my recent run of low scores."