India v Australia, 4th Test, Mumbai, 2nd day

Born to ride

Australian View by Peter English

November 4, 2004

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Surely Jason Gillespie belongs on a motorbike. He could be in a gang of Hell's Angels or Bandidos, riding around scaring young children. Instead he's a cardholder for one of Australia's most exclusive clubs: bowlers who have taken 200 Test wickets.

Revving up with his heavy metal music, Gillespie is quickly overtaking some greats of the game. His impressive four-wicket haul today, a mix of control and wicked offcutters, leaves him within two victims of Ray Lindwall's 228 after breezing passed Clarrie Grimmett (216) at Nagpur. It's not a bad record for a bowler who thought his 50th wicket would be his last.

As he lay next to Steve Waugh in a Sri Lankan hospital following their horrific collision in 1999, Gillespie doubted whether he would ever play another Test. He had added a broken leg to a bulging medical folder of back injuries. It took 14 months to return: Australia are glad he made it, especially on days like today.

Glenn McGrath's most regular opening partner, Gillespie has taken half the wickets and played in 43 fewer matches. Not a taker of regular five-fors, his 9 for 80 at Nagpur was his best match haul in a Test. It is strange that he doesn't rip through batting orders more often, as he did with a frighteningly quick spell at Headingley in 1997, but he has often had to share the spoils with McGrath and Shane Warne. His has a tendency to chip in with three wickets - usually crucial ones.

As in the song of his favourite band Metallica, he seeks and destroys the difficult batsmen. Marcus Trescothick has fallen to him seven times, Sachin Tendulkar six, and Rahul Dravid, Nasser Hussain and Alec Stewart five each. Today it happened again. Tendulkar fell to a nick and left to Australian hoots and cheers, VVS Laxman played a similar shot, with less feet movement, and Mohammad Kaif offered none to a ball that cut back razor-sharply. India were 5 for 33, and Gillespie, whose first job was as a pizza boy, had delivered again. The debutant Nathan Hauritz then helped himself to the lower-order scraps.

Gillespie also worked tirelessly in India in 2001, cutting the ball and beating the bat seemingly hundreds of times while collecting 13 wickets. It seemed a meagre reward. In the first Test in this series he started slowly but has since caught edges, clipped stumps and cannoned into pads. After seven innings he owns 20 wickets at 13.8, and a hold on the opposition top six.

Today Gillespie looked ready to lead the attack when McGrath eventually sends down his final maiden. Before he leaves India it would be great to see him ride off with the motorbike - mullet blowing in the wind, helmet strapped over his goateed chin - that has been offered as a Man-of-the-Match prize. It is a perfect present for a deserving fast bowler.

Peter English is Australasian editor of Wisden Cricinfo.

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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