'Viv deserves fastest hundred' - Gilchrist
Just when even Adam Gilchrist's greatest admirers were wondering if his batting powers would return, Australia's Superman unveiled the second-fastest century in Test history. Gilchrist went within a delivery of wiping off Viv Richards' 56-ball hundred in 1985-86 in dramatic proof his destructive streak remains almost unmatched.
Two ducks in the series and a year of defending his form were banished on a day of heavy heat that was signed off with Gilchrist's four sixes and 12 fours. The Richards record became a distinct possibility when he planted Monty Panesar for 24 in an over that started with a dot.
A two from Monty Panesar's second offering brought up a 40-ball half-century and then the damage began as he exploded with 51 from his next 19 deliveries. Three sixes between mid-on and midwicket ended the Panesar over as five men camped helplessly on the leg-side boundary.
Matthew Hoggard stepped in to replace Panesar and with seven fielders on the perimeter Gilchrist planted another strike into the Barmy Army. Even England's most patriotic followers were in awe of the performance that continued with three leg-side fours in a Steve Harmison over followed by three runs that moved him to 96.
A single came from Hoggard before Gilchrist's 55th delivery was a full and wide one that he failed to make contact with. He gave himself a strong chance to equal Richards by thumping a drive to cover, but it was intercepted by Andrew Flintoff, earning another run and the chance to come second, which he accomplished with a two to mid-off.
The innings eclipsed the Australian mark of 67 balls set by Jack Gregory at Johannesburg in 1921-22, a feat the batsman did not know about until told more than 50 years later. Gilchrist was unaware of Richards' conquest and received no message from the rooms about how close he was to creating history.
"I would have guessed Viv Richards was somewhere in the mix, but I've never known exactly how many balls," he said. "It's a shame I didn't tickle that wide one from Hoggard.
"I probably wouldn't have wanted a message from the dressing room. Viv deserves that mantle as the fastest hundred." Seven of Gilchrist's first nine deliveries were dots and he was about a metre from being caught at gully when he got off the mark with a slash from Flintoff.
Ricky Ponting's declaration ended the Gilchrist bombardment at 102 in 98 minutes. "Once I got to 50 and had that big over off Panesar, I made a decision to attack him," he said. "There was a decent breeze and we had the momentum."
Gilchrist and Michael Clarke, whose superb 135 not out was dramatically overshadowed, sent a request to get a ruling on whether they should attack with the plan of a late declaration. "We read the answer as a yes, apparently it was a no," Gilchrist said.
"At our boot camp communication skills were one of the topics and obviously we didn't pass, but it turned out well and we nabbed that late one." England finished at 1 for 19 and require 538 for victory or two days of solid batting to save the game.
Despite an Ashes win being nine wickets away, Gilchrist was the main talking point as the spectators filed from the ground. It was the second time in a month he had missed a stand-alone record by a delivery after his 63-ball effort at the WACA against Queensland in the Ford Ranger Cup.
Clarke had the best view and said it was an unbelievable performance to watch. "At one stage I thought I'd have a dig," Clarke said, "but then it was get a single and let him go. It was great."
While he was forgotten when the Gilchrist massacre began, Clarke also pounded the boundaries with 17 fours and a six in his 164-ball stay. "I had to fight a bit early," Clarke said. "After the first innings I was really disappointed to make a start. If I got in I wanted to make the most of it. I was very satisfied."
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo