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Bangladesh v Australia, 2nd Test, Chittagong, 3rd Day

The tailender who isn't

The Verdict by Osman Samiuddin

April 18, 2006

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Jason Gillespie: a maiden century in his comeback series © Getty Images
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Unlike Samson, at first glance, Jason Gillespie hasn't lost any strength. He's already taken almost three times as many wickets as he took in the Ashes in his comeback series and with a maiden Test hundred, he's ensured that he won't be dropped again so soon, for his batting form, if nothing else.

Like Damien Martyn, Gillespie's axing must have been one of the most difficult for Australian selectors after the Ashes for both had outstanding years coming into it. But his loss of everything - form, confidence, pace - was so drastic and sudden, it seemed the only choice. It can't have been a popular decision as he remains a popular figure around the world; it's been good to see that gait, the constant stretches back to his mark, back again in an Australian side. The mullet is missed but there you go.

Though he has taken eight wickets in this series, it will take tougher opponents, though not pitches, to properly assess whether he is back to how he was, but his batting at least remains very much in place. For the purposes of records only should he be called a nightwatchman as he became only the fifth one to score a Test hundred, but he is much more than that; his Chennai rearguard, fifties against Pakistan and New Zealand over the last year say as much.

But a Test hundred? That surely confirms his as one of the best tailenders, in fact, a tailender who actually isn't. Lest this seem sarcastic, note the credentials please. Including this hundred, he averages 24.65 from his last 16 Tests with two fifties as well, and if he wishes, he can run those by prodigious Michael `Pup' Clarke, who averages 25.09, with two fifties and no hundreds from the same.

As a batsman, he's simple. He has reserves of patience; it took him six and a half hours to compile his century. Against India in Chennai, he batted nearly four hours for not too many and his fifties have taken well over two hours each. Asif Mujtaba, that gritty southpaw, was criticized once in Pakistan and told to remember that he was in the side for making runs, not taking up time at the crease. Gillespie is exactly this but inverted, his purpose simply to occupy as much time as possible and if runs come, then thanks very much.

Had you been there, you might have been reminded today of the occasion of Saqlain Mushtaq's only Test century, at Christchurch, March 2001. He took seven balls less than the 296 it took Gillespie, but over half an hour more. It's not a bad comparison, as Saqlain too was a little more than token tailend (average of nearly 15 with two fifties); he didn't have the long reach of Gillespie but a similar dead bat. He too tried everyone's patience and possessed the same love for tight defence, but on today's evidence at least he never had the strokes Gillespie does. He had played a couple yesterday, but as the day wore on, Gillespie's driving became surer, more assertive, more batsman-like.

Early in the morning, he slapped Mashrafe Mortaza straight past mid-off and then square drove Mohammad Rafique in the next over. The new ball didn't faze him as he drove Mortaza through the covers and when he eventually brought up his hundred, he did it with yet another cover-driven four. It was the 17th boundary of his innings and the only reminders of his real batting position came in the loose cuts he offered when dropped on 44 and 60. Otherwise - brace yourselves - for the first time ever, Australia played and built a total around Gillespie.

Now generally when Gillespie starts making runs you know the other side is in serious trouble and Bangladesh know it too well now. As ever Mohammad Rafique wheeled away, but he was only supported for a little period of the day by Shahadat Hossain. The promise in him is more about what you see than what he has done so far. Some basic character traits for fast bowling are there; a strong, energetic action, height, a strong physique and the strength for long spells.

And though the speed guns were strangely absent (where is one when you actually need one?), if his grunts are anything to go by, he is possessed of a decent pace as well. You could conclude that too from the hurry-up his bouncers gave to some. An oft-prolonged follow-through also hints at the required attitude of a fast bowler though he will hope for better luck than what he received here, a couple of strong leg-before shouts and a dropped chance hidden beneath wicketless figures. He obsessed about the short ball, but added to success against Sri Lanka, his performance in the series suggests Bangladesh have something to look forward to. That is unlikely to be true of this Test.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

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Osman Samiuddin Osman spent the first half of his life pretending he discovered reverse swing with a tennis ball half-covered with electrical tape. The second half of his life was spent trying, and failing, to find spiritual fulfillment in the world of Pakistani advertising and marketing. The third half of his life will be devoted to convincing people that he did discover reverse swing. And occasionally writing about cricket. And learning mathematics.
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