Top Performer - Adam Gilchrist May 2, 2007

Brighter than the bright lights

Jenny Thompson on Adam Gilchrist's smashing World Cup final

Adam Gilchrist at his show-stopping best © Getty Images

It was, in its unfurling, like a well-constructed Greek play. The audience knew what would happen: that the excitement lay not in the plot, nor the inevitable denouement - made all the more awkward by the umpires lifting and lowering the curtains so randomly that proceedings jerked instantly from perfection to pantomime.

No. The audience knew that the thrills in this World Cup final would come from the performance; but while they came hoping to be entertained, they couldn't have known they were in for an instant classic. Adam Gilchrist's 149 - the highest score in such a final - was word-perfect and crisply executed; from the moment he entered, he nailed his lines, and the ball.

Yet he allowed himself some room for improvisation. Experimenting. In a World Cup final. But then his philosophy has always been: Keep It Simple, Stupid (only he doesn't so much kiss the ball as flay it) and this was a simple innovation, slipping a squash ball into his left glove so his bottom hand wouldn't be so dominant. It worked, and how.

He played his own sublime game of squash, pummelling Sri Lanka's attack. In the mood he was in, it was impossible to stop him - like pitching a windbreak to combat a twister. It put you in mind of his electrifying Ashes hundred, the second fastest in history, having also looked out of sorts beforehand.

Ironically, here it was the very vitality of Gilchrist's innings that squeezed the life out of the game. The instant he stepped down the crease to swat a Chaminda Vaas delivery he created the momentum upon which Australia coasted all the way through to the title.

His innings was in many ways the perfect microcosm of Australia's entire tournament: brutal, dominant, all-encompassing to the extent that you could only marvel open-mouthed, tremble, and accept its inevitability. Which makes it all the more stark a contrast that in the lead-up to the big performance, there were whispers he wasn't cutting it.

Had they paid no heed to history? After all, this was Gilchrist's stage; he had struck fifty-plus in his previous two finals. Even he wasn't to know, though, that he was to strike a World Cup hundred at the 31st time of asking - and what was likely to be his last chance - he seemed, like Shane Warne and his Test batting career, to be forever stranded with a best of 99.

Here in Barbados, Gilchrist backed himself. Like all those World Cup final centurions before him - Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Aravinda de Silva, Ricky Ponting - he believed in himself when it mattered and he turned it on in magnificent style. His team backed him, too, and he was quick to recognise the whole cast: "I got the belief to rise above [the pressure] from my team-mates and the coaching staff. It's amazing how much that can lift you."

It was his turn to shoulder Australia, and together he and Matthew Hayden - who had taken the lead throughout their campaign - hoisted them high to pluck their third consecutive World Cup. Almost incidentally, Gilchrist also ended with 17 tournament dismissals, the highest for a wicketkeeper in the competition.

This show, though, was all about the batting. Like a true top performer, he saved his best for last. Adam Gilchrist, take a bow.

Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo