One-Day Wonder

Gilchrist's most startling talent is his ability to EXPLODE into an innings without the usual warming-up preamble.

When God made the World, he fashioned Adam Gilchrist in his own likeness, made him left-handed and said to him: "Go out to keep wicket for Australia and open the innings in One-Day Internationals." It was perfect casting and in the space of a few Australian summers the man from the Northern Rivers country of New South Wales built himself a fearsome reputation as an agile 'keeper who seldom missed a chance and a batsman who, right from the first ball of an innings, attacked, cultivating a strike-rate which constantly hovers around the 100 mark.

The Wisden Cricketer Magazine of July 2005 canvassed 26 of the top bowlers in the international game seeking opinions on who they thought was "the World's Scariest Batsman" — the batsman whom they least liked bowling to: the man who was their worst nightmare at the batting crease: the player who hit the ball the hardest, made the biggest hit, was most likely to leave their bowling figures a smouldering wreck and in a word — the stroke-maker whom they feared most.

Personally I deem it bad bowling psychology to admit fear of an opponent, especially in the instance of a fast bowler, whose make-up must personify a sense of superiority over all opposition. But for research purposes, 26 trundlers agreed to abandon their arrogance and confess respect of batsmen whom they least like bowling to.

Sixth in their roll of respect was India's little Bradman, Sachin Tendulkar, who scored 12 points. In fifth position was England's ebullient "Freddie" Flintoff, (15 points) followed by India's Virender Sehwag — the batsman who hit the ball where he liked — (25 points), Pakistan's impetuous Shahid Afridi (29 points), the West Indies' "500 Man", Brian Lara, (34 points) and right at the top of the tree, Australian, Adam Gilchrist (43 points). These are interesting statistics. But of more interest to me are the qualities, which made Gilchrist the most feared batsman — especially in the limited-over game. Undoubtedly his most startling talent is his ability to explode into an innings without the usual warming-up preamble: a tactic, which has rewarded him with an extraordinary strike-rate — rivalled only by Ponting on song. But the real secret of Gilchrist's consistent One-Day shock success emanates from the fact that the left-hander has worked out his scoring boundaries and plays strictly within those limitations.

"Gilly" is a peerless — almost intuitive — judge of the bowler's line and length. Thus when a delivery pitches in line with the stumps and on a length which ensures that it would hit the stumps, he combines attack with defence and confines himself to playing straight-bat aggressive strokes off either the front or back foot — hitting through the line of the ball. Since the placid One-Day pitches rarely produce any sideways movement off the seam — and pronounced swing and spin are seldom seen — he employs a full swing of the bat, confident of middling the ball and imparting maximum power. Since the line of the ball is so true, there is usually no necessity to step close to the pitch of the ball in playing these drives which he directs towards the target zone between long-on and extra-cover. He does not hesitate to loft these strokes, knowing fully well that the firmly hit shot will probably travel the full distance to the boundary and the half-hit ball will usually fall in "no-man's land" just beyond the regulatory inner-ring of fieldsmen and well short of any "boundary riders" at long-off or long-on. A high proportion of Gilchrist's main scoring avenues lie in the lofted direction of square-leg and third man — the hitting zones, which constitute many of the left-hander's target areas. He has the lightning reflexes of a wicket-keeper and is quick to seize upon any delivery which the bowler drops even minimally short. Nor does he hesitate to pull or cut the delivery, which is in line with the stumps but bounces above stump height. Bowl such a ball — even as the first of an innings — and immediately it is boundary fodder. If the bowler provides the bonus luxury of width — the probability is that the ball will be caught by a spectator seated in the back row of the stands!

Each of Gilchrist's power-laden shots is given the full treatment. He bats at full throttle. There are no half-measures and only when the bowler pitches on the ideal length in line with the stumps, is he treated with respect. Stray from that ideal model just twice in an over, and the left-hander can exact a double figure tribute. Gilchrist's innate skills are ideally attuned to the format of the Limited-Over game. Cricket's short game favours his intuitive skill of interpreting anticipatory cues.

Its rules eliminate the delivery which slides wide down the leg side; and dropping the ball short enables the batsman to deploy his strokes in a 360 degree circle around the wicket. Thus a bowler who is economically trained is programmed to deliver "dot balls" on a prescribed length and line, into a predetermined hitting area aligned to the off-side of the batsman's middle and off stumps and on a perfect length. This in turn enables the batsman to anticipate that most of the bowler's deliveries will be aimed at this zone — thus pre-empting many of the judgements, which most batsmen must make before striking the ball. Gilchrist's selection of his favourite hitting zones and the shots to employ is so natural that one is tempted to endow him with exceptional reflexes.

The truth is that the Aussie 'keeper is one of the newer breed of cricket intelligentsia — players with exceptionally astute cricket brains. These are the men who follow the creed of that West Indian writer and guru of the game, C. L. R. James, whose favourite dictum I paraphrase when I quote: "You can have two players each endowed with the same qualities. One has special attribute and goes on to be a great player, whilst the other remains a club player all his life. The greatness of a player lies in his head."