TIMING, daring and range

Published : Feb 07, 2004 00:00 IST

Adam Gilchrist is an extraordinarily gifted cricketer. Like most great batsmen he makes the game appear absurdly simple, writes PETER ROEBUCK.

ADAM GILCHRIST is the bright and breezy cricketer of his age. In a time obsessed with figures and analyses he slashes away upon the field like an old-fashioned swashbuckler tackling pirates in some seafaring epic. Not that he is a mere cavalier content with appearances, sheathing his sword and attending to the ladies. Gilchrist has an astonishing record and his contributions have been crucial to the rise of this formidable Australian side. When Gilchrist is running hot the rest takes care of itself... The Indians are well aware of his powers. Gilchrist's loss of form was a significant factor in India's storming victory over the Australians in 2001.

Gilchrist is an extraordinarily gifted cricketer. Like most great batsmen he makes the game appear absurdly simple. To watch him cheerfully dispatch a ball through cover is to see an apparently effortless execution of a notoriously difficult stroke. When he hooks a ball over square-leg it is with the cheek associated with schoolboys. When he steps down the pitch to drive over the top it is an adventure of the sort often described in juvenile literature. When he sweeps vividly to the boundary a hundred songs erupt in the heart for this is a moment that knows no misery, an uninhibited moment in which man is suddenly rid of the confining chains of the concerned life.

Beyond reasonable doubt Gilchrist is the finest wicket-keeper/batsman the game has known. In a time of plenty in Australian cricket he is capable of securing a regular place as a batsman alone. Asked to name the best Test hundreds he had seen from an Australian Greg Chappell said he'd include "all of Gilchrist's and then start thinking." Like countless others, Chappell had been impressed by the beautiful simplicity of the New South Welshman's game, most especially the combination of timing, daring and range that have made the Australian so hard to contain. Gilchrist does not seem to play any defensive strokes. Not that he disdains them or anything as arrogant as that. Unlike previous destroyers of bowling, the left-hander does not impose himself as a character merely as a cricketer, a trait he has in common with Sir Garfield Sobers. There is no swagger in his work, merely a cheeriness that often sees him chatting to opponents even as he tears them apart. Rather, he does not defend because playing his shots is more likely to prove productive. He has the licence granted to allrounders, the freedom to chance his arm come rain or shine. Of course it helps that he bats in the middle-order. By then the course of respectability has been tried by six distinguished predecessors and both crowd and innings are ready for some antipodean impudence.

As fast as Test cricket goes, Gilchrist averages 55, an impressive figure achieved without the care and attention detected in specialist batsmen whose careers rise and fall upon their record at the crease. Repeatedly Gilchrist has lost his wicket recklessly, belting away at the bowling with the relish of a teenager upon a set of drums, refusing to contain himself even as the field spreads and leaving without regret as a catch is taken on the boundary. Whenever swift runs are required Gilchrist marches to the crease with a laugh in his walk quite happy to make his contribution and never mind that a more cautious approach might boost his average. Always he has played his cricket without resentment.

Not that Gilchrist is either a saint or naive. No Australian cricketer is without ruse or remark and wicket-keepers usually take upon themselves the role of sheriff, keeping both fieldsmen and batsmen on their toes with a variety of helpful observations. Nor is his cricket entirely a product of the free-spirit. During Australia's recent one-day series on the subcontinent Gilchrist spent his time at practise preparing for the Test series due to begin in October. He failed in 2001 and realised that he needed to master the art of building an innings against top-class spin with men hanging around the bat like pickpockets at a market. He is a practical and highly competitive cricketer. A lakh of rupees can be put upon him to score heavily in this fascinating and forthcoming encounter.

Curiously, and his dashing century against Zimbabwe recently notwithstanding, Gilchrist is not an especially dangerous opponent in the shorter form of the game. Naturally opposing captains breathe a sigh of relief when his wicket is taken but his batting is inconsistent and he takes upon himself the pinch-hitting role usually assigned to less important members of the order. Of course this outlook confirms the unselfishness that is such an attractive part of his game Nevertheless it does seem to be a waste of a precious talent... Perhaps, though, there is reason to be found in this apparent carelessness. Even a man of Gilchrist's energies cannot keep wicket and sustain long innings in both forms of the game. Accordingly Gilchrist may reserve his mental and physical energies for his glovework and batting in Test cricket, an arrangement that allows him to throw the bat in the briefer contests by way of self-presevartion.

Inevitably Gilchrist's batting has been the focus of attention. Amongst previous glovemen only Leslie Ames belongs in remotely the same category as a batsman. Clyde Walcott, Rohan Kanhai and other great batsmen have taken the gloves but none could be regarded as an authentic wicket-keeper. But the entire point about the Australian is that he also carries out his primary duty with the utmost distinction. Gilchrist is an excellent 'keeper. He stood up to the wickets when Shane Warne was still spinning the ball sharply and lost almost nothing in comparison with Ian Healy, one of the best members of a great tradition. Standing back, he has taken some remarkable catches, not least in Perth where the ball flies as if shot from a cannon.

Admittedly Gilchrist lost form with the gloves during the series against India, dropping a few awkward chances and failing to lead the fielding team with his customary aplomb. But, then, Australia did not field well as a team, an indication that overall standards had slipped due to a neglect born of a desire to conserve energy. Gilchrist is an honest man and will recognise the deterioration, identify the cause and repair the situation.

Besides being a top-class cricketer and a wonderful entertainer, Gilchrist is also a rounded and concerned individual. Like many of his country's best cricketers and citizens, he was raised in the antipodean bush, a place without affectation. His celebrated walk in the World Cup semi-final was an indication of a growing acceptance that cricket is just a game , and a recognition that there are more important things in the world than victory or defeat in a sporting contest. His act was saluted not least because he was swimming against the tide. Apparently he was also keen to make a gesture of protest against the intransigent regime in power in Zimbabwe, further proof of his sense of responsibility and willingness to stand on his own patch of turf.

Gilchrist's rare talents deserve all the praise that has been bestowed upon them. Nowadays wicket-keepers are judged by his standards. Most opponents start the match 100 runs behind the Australians because their keeper cannot bat as well as him. His performances must be enjoyed because they cannot last forever and might not last much longer. Already Gilchrist seems to be searching for more meaning in his life and yearning for more time at home. The same restless energy and independence that brought him into the game and allowed him to understand and survive the hostility of supporters aghast at losing Healy may soon take him from the game and into a quieter, more reflective lifestyle for this man of action is also a philosopher of sorts and parts currently subdued will sooner or later demand attention.

More stories from this issue

Sign in to unlock all user benefits
  • Get notified on top games and events
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign up / manage to our newsletters with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early bird access to discounts & offers to our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment