Up there with the very best

Any cricketer who can make such a serious impact in both forms of the game with the willow has to be special. Behind the stumps, too, the lanky Gilchrist is a success. He is agile and swift defying the theory that wicket-keepers have to be short and light, writes S. DINAKAR.

ADAM GILCHRIST is a phenom. A modern-day wonder who has already earned a place in the history of a game that dates back to the Victorian era.

While the Australian's methods with the willow are exhilarating, his work with the big gloves is safe. Statistics do not always tell the entire story, but in Gilchrist's case, they are staggering. If an all-rounder is someone who can swing matches with his outstanding work in two departments, apart from saving a valuable place in the XI, Gilchrist is surely up there with the very best.

With the willow, he has 3073 runs in 47 Tests at 60.25, and only Sir Donald Bradman (99.94), Graeme Pollock (60.97), George Headley (60.83) and Herbert Sutcliffe (60.73) have averaged more (minimum qualification 2000 Test runs). Gilchrist is clearly in the league of the all-time greats here although we will have to wait for his career-end record before arriving at any conclusive judgment.

At No. 7, this explosive left-hander can so easily destroy attacks, turn games on their head, leave the opposition demoralised. Proof? His mind-boggling double-hundred off just 212 balls at the Wanderers in 2002, that left the Proteas, faced with heavy artillery bombardment, running for cover! Importantly his away Test average (64.90) compares more than favourably with that at home (58.81).

In the ODIs, where he surfaces at the top of the order, Gilchrist is high on octane, and low on sympathy for the bowlers. Inspiring his mates, even as the opposition perspires!

The 31-year-old West Australian's strike-rate of 92.10 is awesome, considering he has notched up 5598 runs at 34.77 from 173 matches (including the Faridabad ODI of the TVS Tri-Series). In fact, if we keep 2000 runs, an average of 30 and a strike-rate in excess of 90 as the benchmark, only Virender Sehwag (2286 from 75 ODIs, Ave. 34.11, SR. 96.70) has scored quicker.

Lance Klusener (3381 from 154 ODIs, Ave. 43.34, SR. 90.64) deserves credit since he generally walks in when not too many overs are remaining. Master Blaster Vivian Richards is the only other batsman in this category (6721 in 187 ODIs, Ave. 47, SR. 90.20). This is a rather elite gathering.

Let's take a look at the other top-notch customers in the contemporary ODI scenario — Sachin Tendulkar (12367 runs in 316 ODIs, Ave. 44.80, SR. 86.45), Inzamam-ul-Haq (9282 runs in 298 ODIs, Ave. 39, SR. 72.47),Sanath Jayasuriya (9126 runs in 307 ODIs, Ave. 31.79, SR.88.87), Sourav Ganguly (8897 in 233, Ave. 43.18, SR. 74.64) and Brian Lara (8233 in 219, Ave. 43.10, SR. 78.73).

Tendulkar, Ganguly, Lara and Inzamam average much higher than Gilchrist. However, the Aussie's strike-rate is better. Any cricketer who can make such a serious impact in both forms of the game with the willow has to be special and we have not dwelled on the Bellingen boy's wicket-keeping yet!

Behind the stumps, the lanky Gilchrist is agile and swift, and defies the theory that wicket-keepers have to be short and light. A fact reflected in the Aussie's 185 and 18 and 25 and 37 catches and stumpings in Tests and ODIs respectively, and his world record six dismissals in an ODI (against Namibia), during World Cup 2003.

It is never easy keeping to the fastest of pacemen and the meanest of spinners, and Gilchrist, his reflexes out of the ordinary and fitness levels remarkable, has seldom been found wanting against Brett Lee and Shane Warne.

Though not an all-rounder in the conventional sense — Australia has not produced a great exponent of this breed since the dashing Keith Miller — Gilchrist has made a marked difference to the fortunes of his team.

What makes Gilchrist tick with the willow? The key could be his posture at the point of delivery. His initial movement is forward, though he does not commit himself on to the front foot. If the ball is dropped short, he can transfer his weight to the backfoot in a flash, and unleash a punishing response. Aussie legend Greg Chappell is a firm believer in this technique, which apart from instilling a sense of positiveness in a batsman, provides him a fraction of a second more to cope with a delivery for he is already ready to strike.

Gilchrist's decisiveness in strokeplay sets him apart — there are no half measures here. The idea is to seize the initiative from the bowlers mentally, and take them to a point where their thoughts are trained more towards stemming the flow of runs than devising ways to dismiss him. While his hand-eye coordination is an important element of his batting, Gilchrist has a workable and effective defence, and cannot be described as a chancy customer.

This man is influential, both as a lower middle-order batsman in Tests, where he has got the Aussies out of jail time and again at a scoring rate that has seen them eventually win those matches, and in the ODIs, where he sets the tempo, and often, progresses to much bigger things. Invariably, the opposition does not have enough time to regroup.

Though a New South Welshman by birth, Gilchrist represents Western Australia in domestic cricket, and does play a lot of his cricket on the fast and bouncy Perth pitch. This explains why he is so strong on the cut and the pull; like Jayasuriya he can use the short-arm method, cashing in on the slightest errors in either width or length. The scorching backfoot cover-drive and the pick-up stroke on the on-side have fetched him runs in plenty.

He can be unorthodox against the spinners, and during his hectic hundred in the Mumbai Test of 2001, Gilchrist consistently and successfully hit Harbhajan Singh against the spin, whether lofting the bowler over mid-wicket or sweeping him — his favourite stroke against the spinners.

Not surprisingly, Australia won that Test, and Matthew Hayden, with whom Gilchrist orchestrated that sensational victory, is also his opening partner in the ODIs. A dreaded left-handed combination.

The Aussie game-plan in Tests — rattling up around 330 runs in a day and providing bowlers with time to bowl the opposition out twice — fits Gilchrist's approach like a glove.

And his spirit of sportsmanship shone through when he `walked' in as huge a game as the 2003 World Cup semifinal. However, like most Aussies, Gilchrist too can cut down on words as he attempts to distract and disturb batsmen.

For most part though, he is a friendly, affable man, his face bearing a grin and his eyes having that unmistakable sparkle. Living under Ian Healy's large shadow, Gilchrist was already 27 when he made his Test debut in the 1999-2000 season. But then, he is rapidly making up for lost time.

There are several chapters left in this unique success story. Adam Gilchrist is bound for more glory ... for he is a phenom like no other.