Adam Gilchrist comes full circle
One of a highly select group of cricketers who can rightfully lay claim to having revolutionised the way the game is played, Adam Gilchrist was one of the world's most mesmerizing and magnetic cricketers for the best part of a decade during his international career.
Now, two years after his retirement from international cricket and in the twilight of his playing days, his career has almost come back to where it started with a stint at Middlesex. When he takes the field in the county's Twenty20 match against Glamorgan at Old Deer Park on June 15, he will be returning to the ground where he played as a teenager for Richmond more than 20 years ago.
"For me this is almost a full circle," he said before his first game for Middlesex. "I was here in 1989 playing for Richmond in the Middlesex county league as a 17-year-old. It was without a doubt the most important year, developmentally, of my life, both on the field and off the field. Learning about life away from home, independence and the big wide world out there outside of the comfort of mum and dad's house."
Three years after his season with Richmond, Gilchrist had forced his way into first-class cricket in Australia. National colours came in a one-day game against South Africa at Faridabad in 1996, at the age of 24, and though his usurping of the more traditional and technical Ian Healy's role in the Test side three years later was by no means universally welcomed, his attitude and approach to the game soon endeared him to Australian cricket fans.
Gilchrist played two Tests at Lord's - his new home ground - as well as a handful of ODIs, but he was already familiar with the place before he had ever played there. "Like every youngster around England - or around the world - that likes cricket and has the chance, I would come in here and sit and watch whatever game was going on, whoever was training on the nursery, just hoping and wondering and praying that I could get a crack at it. The first time I had a chance on Lord's was as an Under-19 Australian representative in 1991."
Unusually, Gilchrist had never played county cricket before his signing for Middlesex, but he attributes that fact to his desire to spend his off-seasons with his family, rather than plying his trade in the English summer on the other side of the world. "Really it was just me valuing the rest opportunity that was there," he explains. "I just preferred to be at home recovering, recuperating with family, getting my life prepared for outside of cricket once that finished.
"But once this opportunity came up, I was extremely excited about it. The way in which Twenty20 cricket is changing the landscape of cricket and opportunities for players is amazing - if someone said two years ago that I'd be playing for a county in any form of the game, I would've said 'you're crazy'. But it's come along and the fact that it's Middlesex, given the historical background, makes it even more special.
"All these different associations with Middlesex, having played in the league here, getting to know a few of the Middlesex players, having had the chance to play on Lord's with the Australian team, and now to do it as a Middlesex player is something I really look forward to, and I'm thrilled to be involved with. I don't think, contractually, I was down to play, but I certainly jumped out of my skin when I saw that there was a game against Glamorgan at Old Deer Park.
A crowd of around 15,000 greeted Gilchrist's first appearance for Middlesex, and although he was unable to give them the vintage performance they were hoping for - making just two before he played on to Yasir Arafat's first ball - his presence in county cricket will continue to draw interest from those hoping for a final glimpse of a cricketer without equal in the modern era. His homecoming at Richmond will be, as Gilchrist said, "a nice little full stop to my time in England".
Liam Brickhill is an assistant editor at ESPN Cricinfo