Australia v India, 4th Test, Adelaide, 4th day January 27, 2008

An opponent you love to love

At the ground whistles and shouts came from people on their tip-toes and Gilchrist must have wanted to wipe his eyes © Getty Images

"No!" A spectator at the ground grimaced for the country when Adam Gilchrist swiped a catch to cover. The disappointment was not for the shot, but for his final Test batting act in a career that stole breaths for nine years. Feelings for Gilchrist were still raw after the retirement announcement the previous day and as he emerged from the dressing room the noise grew as quickly as when a teenager has charge of the stereo.

Spectators around Australia have roared for Sachin Tendulkar over the past month, but those were whispers compared to this reception. The crowd stood and the India players waited for the batsman, clapping in a show of respect which is magnified by the spate of events that have occurred during the series. Gilchrist is a man even opponents love to love.

"I have never seen a retirement bring tears to the eyes of six grown men," a supporter emailed after hearing the news. "Thank you dearly."

At the ground whistles and shouts came from people on their tip-toes and Gilchrist must have wanted to wipe his eyes. Corporate logos are not the only things he has worn on his sleeves throughout a magical career. Ishant Sharma's first ball was outside off stump and Gilchrist left it, stepping back to run on the spot and shake off the emotion.

A "Gilly, Gilly" chant began on the hill and he drove a ball straight for three. It was crisp despite a short follow through. There was hope for a favourite swot over midwicket, but a handful of singles from cuts were taken to deep point instead. He sprinted for runs even when Andrew Symonds ambled and seemed desperate to impress.

There was a fierce reminder of his uncompromising power when he slammed a drive off Irfan Pathan that went low and straight towards Billy Bowden. The umpire dropped and rolled and the ball bulleted to the boundary. Bowden was not the only one whose heart-rate lifted.

Hope for more explosions ended three balls later when he swung at a wider Pathan delivery and found Virender Sehwag. Unless two batting collapses occur over the next day he won't be seen again without wicketkeeping gloves. The sadness was masked by more standing and clapping, the most he has ever received for a 14. Sharma walked across and shook Gilchrist's hand while the Indians re-joined the tribute.

The walk to the dressing room was brisk, but he slowed and turned just before reaching the boundary. A careful wave was aimed at his family in the Bradman Stand before he raised his bat to team-mates and members. After a jog up the stairs he was gone, but for those who saw his deeds he won't be forgotten.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo