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Peter English at the Adelaide Oval
January 25, 2008
A bottle of champagne is usually the gift for a world record holder, but Mark Boucher should save the postage after Adam Gilchrist became the game's most successful wicketkeeper. The two glovemen will play pass the parcel with the mark as they wait for the music to stop on Gilchrist's career.
The milestone of 414 has arrived at a testing time for Gilchrist, whose sloppiness behind the stumps has spread through the team. Ian Healy described the wicketkeeper as the drummer in the band, but during the India series Australia have lost their beat and their previously impeccable standards have dropped.
Gilchrist has a strong collection of 35 dismissals in the past seven Tests, but it is the four catches and two stumpings he has missed against India that are being remembered. Agendas to have him removed are premature, but at 36 each mistake is magnified by those looking to the new generation. Slowing reflexes and heavier legs are normal for those in middle age and Gilchrist has to regain his sharpness to fend off Brad Haddin, another attacking batsman and rounded keeper.
Footwork has been a problem for Gilchrist at times over the past four weeks, preventing him from making enough ground for more comfortable takes, but regulation offerings have also been spilled. VVS Laxman benefited from Gilchrist's error on the first day and the affliction was caught by Phil Jaques, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey on the second.
Seven offerings were grassed in India's first innings of 526 and when Gilchrist moved clear of Boucher with the final wicket there was no Warnesque fanfare. The edge from Anil Kumble's drive was accepted and the celebration involved Gilchrist brushing his gloves together like he does after taking most deliveries.
Almost two days in the field wore down Australia and only Ponting, Brad Hogg and Brett Lee congratulated Gilchrist on his achievement. Matthew Hayden, who spilled a take at first slip on Thursday, sprinted off the field to prepare to bat and the hardest backslaps came from the crowd on the way up to the dressing room. Head-to-head battles for untouched marks seem more riveting when the gloves are off.
Gilchrist accepted his two chances on the second day and both were comfortable, Harbhajan Singh lobbing a sweep for a running take before the Kumble nick. The men around him were not so fortunate and when a bowling attack is experiencing hard days, like it has in Adelaide and Perth, it looks to the fielders for a boost.
Only one chance was floored by Gilchrist in the innings, but his performances set the pulse for the side, and not just through sharp running between overs and sprints for balls in close. The mood is also relevant to his run-making, which has become hit and miss since the 2006-07 Ashes, when his scores were 0, 64, 0, 102 not out, 1 and 62.
In this series his results have been mixed again, with a half-century pushing his tally to 136 runs at 22.66. Australia expect more from someone who changed the role of the wicketkeeper-batsman, but the slide has been starting since his problems with Andrew Flintoff in the 2005 Ashes. From the beginning of that campaign he has averaged 30.66 in 27 Tests with only two centuries.
Over the past couple of years Gilchrist has complained about the workload before returning refreshed and energetic from off-season breaks. Unless the Pakistan tour is cancelled there will be no holiday this year and it would not be a surprise if Gilchrist shaved his one-day duties. A 100th Test is looming - he is playing his 96th - and so is more time with his family.
The lure of being a world record holder has also gone and a cross-Asia battle with Boucher is unlikely to hold his interest. Boucher, who has played 109 Tests, overtook Healy's 395 dismissals in Pakistan in October and South Africa will be playing India in March while Australia are scheduled to tour Pakistan.
However, wicketkeeping remains largely unfashionable despite Gilchrist's all-round exploits and the title fight for the record will not be covered like the Warne v Murali duels over the past four years. After the subdued reaction from his team-mates, Gilchrist may have to wait for a meeting with Boucher before the corks for the world mark really start to pop.
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