Jason Gillespie April 19, 2006

Dizzy comes back from the dead

Andrew Miller looks at Jason Gillespie, Cricinfo's top performer of the week
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Jason Gillespie: they thought he'd never play again, but instead he popped up with his maiden Test century © Getty Images
One of the more poignant aspects of last summer's enthralling Ashes campaign was the sad and very public decline of Australia's stalwart seamer, Jason Gillespie. At his very best, which was very, very good indeed, Gillespie was a thrusting, threatening, fizzingly accurate foil to the great Glenn McGrath, and an under-rated aspect of Australia's world domination in the 1990-2000s.

Last summer, however, the man was a busted flush. The snap had vanished from his heavy-shouldered action, and he struggled to three measly wickets at 100 apiece in three Tests, before being dropped after Old Trafford for humanitarian reasons. His long luxuriant mullet, for so long a quirky character trait, now made him a figure of fun, with cries of "where's your caravan?" dogging his every move.

Today however, on the occasion of his 31st birthday, Gillespie celebrated his second coming, in the unlikely environs of Chittagong on the shore of the Bay of Bengal. He may not add significantly to his current tally of 259 Test wickets, or extend his career much further into his fourth decade, but he'll recall for evermore the day he creamed his way to a remarkable unbeaten double-century.

It was a performance in two parts. On the first day he deadbatted his way to 102 not out, facing 300 balls with just 45 scoring strokes, and becoming only the fifth nightwatchman (after Tony Mann, Syed Kirmani, Mark Boucher (twice) and Nasim-ul-Ghani) to reach three figures. On the second, he let rip with an abandon seldom seen, climbing into the spinners to bring up his second hundred from just 125 balls, with 26 fours and two sixes.

While some might question the value of a century against Bangladesh, Gillespie, for one, is not a man to take their challenge lightly. Last week, he had to dig deep alongside his captain, Ricky Ponting, to steer Australia to a face-saving three-wicket win in the first Test, while at Sophia Gardens last June, he was involved in one of the defining snapshots of the summer.

When the diminutive Aftab Ahmed heaved Gillespie for a massive six in the final over of Bangladesh's famous NatWest Series victory, the Australian aura of invincibility was shattered. It also threatened to be an undeserved epitaph to Gillespie's fine career. Instead, and at the 11th hour, he has returned to the fray with a performance of pride and dignity, to create for himself an exclusive niche in the record books that may never be emulated.

He said
"I thought I was no hope". Optimism had been thin on the ground ahead of Gillespie's shock recall for the Bangladesh trip, not least from the man himself.

They said
"Jason Gillespie is a 30-year-old in a 36-year-old body". As the sharks circled around Gillespie during the Ashes, it was the former England captain, Bob Willis, who summed up his decline most succinctly.

Did you know
Gillespie had never previously scored a century in any form of the game. His best was a score of 90, "playing E grade for Adelaide in about 1992-93". Consequently, he suffered few nerves as his improbable milestone approached. "I wasn't nervous because I never expected to get in that position," he told reporters at the close. "I was loving it."

What the future holds
Maybe a stab at Ashes redemption in November, and then, who knows? If the snap is back, then his know-how could prove invaluable as Australia brace themselves for life without Warne and McGrath. If it has gone for good, then England's batsmen will soon let him know. A summer well spent at Yorkshire could provide the vital clues.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo