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October 16, 2004
In his fifth Test as captain, Adam Gilchrist has taken responsibility to a new level. By batting at No.3 in Australia's second innings, he gave his side their only chance of saving the match. After three days behind the stumps in the sort of heat that saps energy even out of the locals, Gilchrist could have cooled off in the air-conditioning and waited his turn. Instead he stepped back into the furnace with his team facing a deficit of 88 runs.
A promotion always brings extra spring to one's step, and Gilchrist somehow found the strength to bounce out. His normal position might have offered a night's respite, but it also carried the danger of being stranded - as Simon Katich was in the first innings - in another lower-order implosion. Australia's bowlers, no matter how hard they try, will be lucky to hang around as long as the drinks breaks that look like desert caravans with their chairs, umbrellas and towels. Going in early became Gilchrist's only option.
When Ricky Ponting was ruled out with a broken thumb, Gilchrist considered becoming his short-term replacement at No. 3. As Ponting's recovery slowed, the move was aborted because it was too difficult. Now everybody saw why. He had already crouched through 134 overs, rotating the bowlers and generally ignoring the part-timers, and tried to stay cool in a situation that worsened with dropped catches and stubborn resistance. An ice scarf offered little relief.
Having re-considered the decision at a crucial stage of the match and series, Gilchrist's early play was indecisive. Both spinners were on, catchers hovered. He wasn't sure whether to use bat or pad, and almost played on to Anil Kumble. Sometimes he jumped down the wicket and scooted back, reading the ball more from the pitch than the hand. He wanted to play shots, but wasn't sure which ones.
There were further miscues, a top-edge to safety and then on 31 he connected with a sweep and it raced to the boundary. Another went the same way to take him to 40. His confidence was growing before he lost the calming influence of Katich. Damien Martyn walked out and thoughts returned to Kandy in March, when they shared a 200-run stand in similar circumstances. The promotion ploy had worked then, when Australia had trailed by 91 and Gilchrist stepped in for Ponting, blasting 144 to set up a narrow win.
This time the brief was too difficult and the series should be squared tomorrow. The pair moved Australia into credit, but with two overs until stumps, Gilchrist was bowled around his legs trying to sweep a Kumble wrong'un. After dripping for 81 balls he could no longer ward off the risks of spin or fatigue. It was a courageous effort. He has given a new definition to multi-tasking.
Peter English is Australasian editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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