'Gilchrist can go on a lot longer' - Healy
Ian Healy believes the player who takes over the gloves from Adam Gilchrist will need to be a man of dual talents. "Our next wicketkeeper will first have to be as good a keeper as him and then as good a batsman," Healy said on the day Gilchrist equalled his Australian Test record of 395 dismissals by catching Zaheer Khan off Brett Lee.
Healy knew his mark would be broken but wasn't sure who would do it. Mark Boucher overtook Healy's record during South Africa's tour of Pakistan earlier this year and he has 404 victims so far. Healy said Gilchrist and Boucher share the top wicketkeeping spot today.
Gilchrist caught the eye first thing in the morning with his pink gloves and black armband - the first in support of Glenn McGrath's breast cancer foundation, the second as a mark of respect to a family friend who had been beaten to death with his own cricket bat in a gruesome encounter on Christmas Day. Equalling Healy's record, however, was the most memorable Gilchrist moment.
"He deserves it," Healy said. "He's played an important part in a very successful team and has done it spectacularly more than in a silent way.
"Gilchrist has had an extraordinary career, he hasn't missed a Test. To do what he's done in one-dayers and Tests with bat and with the gloves without getting injured is just amazing."
Healy was forced to retire after the selectors dropped him in favour of Gilchrist in 1999. However, Healy is proud that his successor has consistently kept the critics at bay.
"From the time he took over as a one-day wicketkeeper, he matured extremely well until he took the gloves in the Tests," Healy said. "He's had no problems with [Shane] Warne and Brett Lee and he's taken some classic, as well as some extraordinary, catches."
Healy refuses to believe that Gilchrist is an old hand at 35 and feels he has a long way to go. "He could go on a lot longer if he wants to."
Gilchrist, who recently reached 100 sixes in Tests and, with 401 catches and 53 stumpings, holds the record for the most ODI dismissals, has simultaneously carried out keeping and batting duties with ease. Healy said it took Gilchrist a while to grapple with the dual responsibility but he has shaped up well over the years. "He's become more a wicketkeeper now. In the early years he was finding himself coming in at five for not many runs so he was outstanding to get the team out of trouble."
Even though Gilchrist recently talked about reconsidering his decision to retire, Healy strongly believes it won't affect the side like Warne's departure did. "[Brad] Haddin is going to be a walking replacement for Gilly whenever he decides to go. There's a good group of young kids a yard behind Haddin, like Luke Ronchi [Western Australia], Mathew Wade [Victoria] and Chris Hartley [Queensland]."
For decades the wicketkeeper has been a symbolic presence in the victorious Australian teams and his longevity, Healy said, formed a catalyst in the team's success. "It's a very proud tradition Australians have got that the wicketkeepers are there for a long time. It's the sign of the strength of Australian cricket and also the sign of the fitness levels and durability of their keepers."
Nagraj Gollapudi and Siddhartha Vaidyanathan are assistant editors at Cricinfo