He stole the thunder

G. VISWANATH

Aussie Gary Gilmour's six for 14 against England was the most memorable bowling performance of the 1975 World Cup.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

GARY GILMOUR appeared like a meteor on Australia's cricket stage. There was no place for him in the team at a time when Australia and Ian Chappell commanded the awesome twosome in the magnificently skilled Dennis Lillee and the tornado-like fast bowler in Jeff Thomson, both of whom had turned out to be mortal terrors. Making an impact when Lillee and Thomson were around was out of the question; winning a permanent place in the team in the 1970s, when there were the back-up, but high quality bowlers such as Max Walker and Len Pascoe, might have been possible only with lady luck smiling on the aspiring men in the fast lane.

It was when Lillee and Thomson were hunting in pairs and in their pomp that Gilmour stole the thunder in two crucial encounters of the inaugural World Cup, first against arch-rival England and afterwards against the Calypso Kings in the Cup final. Gilmour was like a luxury-liner passenger in the Australian team until the semifinal at Headingley, Leeds. The most serious business for the 24-year-old left-arm seamer till then was to keep his eyes glued to the virtuoso bowler in Lillee and learn lessons.

But when the master had to leave the scene because of a niggle, Gilmour straightaway walked in to serendipity and it must have thrilled the New South Welshman because his near-phenomenal performance came against England. Gilmour snapped up the wickets of Dennis Amiss who had piled up 135 against India at Lord's, Barry Wood, Keith Fletcher, Tony Greig, Frank Hayes and Alan Knott all in 72 balls and conceding a measly 14 runs.

It was an incredible bowling feat — he was the first bowler to take six wickets in a one-day international — that shattered and demoralised England and dashed the home team's hopes of making the final. Gilmour had the benefit of helpful conditions, the main reason why the semifinal was a low-scoring and nerve-tingling match. England's innings slumped to 93 in 35.2 overs, Walker taking three for 22 and Mike Dennes making 27.

Regarded initially as a successor, but late by 13 years, to the spectacular Alan Davidson, Gilmour's tenure in the big league turned out to be just three seasons. He came from the same province (New South Wales) as Davidson and impressed experts in grade cricket and also when he made his debut in 1970-71 with a hard-hitting 122 against South Australia. Two years later, he played a part in Australia's campaign against New Zealand at home and across the Tasman, but after Lillee returned following a rehabilitation, Gilmour did not find a place for the Ashes battle. Australia had riches to squander.

But the Australian selectors chose the versatile and match-winning all-rounder for the World Cup. He knew the nuance of left-arm seam bowling and demonstrated it aplenty, moving the ball in the air and bringing it back into the right-hander, bowling from over the wicket. Three of the six England batsmen were out leg before to him. In the final his cache included greats of the game such as Alvin Kallicharran, Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Vivian Richards and Derryk Murray.

But the West Indies, powered by Lloyd's 102, went on to win the first Prudential World Cup, defeating Australia by 17 runs. Gilmour's tally in two matches was 11 wickets; in all he played just five one-day internationals and took 16 wickets at 10.31. Obviously, his six for 14 was the most memorable. It despatched England out of the World Cup.