January 26, 2008

Craftsman and cavalier

Every significant passing produces a hundred memories. Adam Gilchrist's also brings forth a hundred smiles
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Adam Gilchrist: The man with the swing of a swordsman © Getty Images
 

Adam Gilchrist has given more outright joy to followers of the game than any cricketer since Sir Garfield Sobers. He will be missed as a cricketing force, as a contributor and as an entertainer.

Throughout his career he has played with a gusto that has set him apart from the common run with their facts and figures. The sight of him lifting a boundary catch when quick runs were needed - and departing with something akin to a hop and skip - reminded spectators that cricket is just a game and ought not to be meanly played.

Except on the dark days that occasionally encompass even the brightest lives, he retained this attitude, impressing crowds with merriment even as he slayed bowlers with swashbuckling strokes.

Yet to characterise Gilchrist as a cavalier is to underestimate his craftsmanship and his contribution. Guarding the stumps was his primary duty, a role he carried out with an athleticism and skill that spoke of substantial skill and unfailing stamina. It was no easy task to replace as superb a gloveman as Ian Healy, into whose hands the ball nestled like a bird in a nest. Gilchrist met the challenge with aplomb, not so much ignoring the hisses that greeted him as turning them into cheers by sheer weight of performance and freshness of character.

Standing back to fast bowlers, he was superb. Even now, in this sudden, dismaying and inevitable hour, it is possible to remember him flying through the air to take glides down the leg side, glove outstretched, landing with a thump and emerging with the ball with the sort of pleasure detected in a child who has found a plum. At these times he transformed innocent glances into remarkable snares.

Doubtless it helped that he is a left-hander but then his work in the other direction was not much worse. He was a capable, as opposed to gifted wicketkeeper.

Standing over the stumps to spinners, Gilchrist was reliable. Over the years Shane Warne had less reason than he imagined to regret Healy's departure. Until the last few rugged months, Gilchrist did not miss much. Often he'd wear a helmet to counter the Victorian's prodigious spin, and his work behind the pads was admirable. He holds the world record for Test victims. He must have done something right.

 
 
Adam Gilchrist has been a mighty cricketer who did his best to serve the side, entertain spectators and improve the way the game was played. The amazing thing is not that he occasionally faltered. The amazing thing is that he so often succeeded
 

But it is in his secondary responsibility as a batsman that Gilchrist will be remembered longest and cherished most. Simply, he changed the role of the wicketkeeper, changed the way batting orders were constructed. Previously keepers had been little, cheeky fellows built along the lines of jockeys who advanced their tallies with with idiosyncratic strokes sent into improbable places. By and large they did not alter the course of an innings. Gilchrist was having none of that. Instead he became two cricketers, a dashing and dangerous batsman and a polished gloveman. Throughout his career Australia has been playing with 12 men.

Others may reflect upon his thrilling innings at the top of the order in fifty-over cricket, not least the dazzling hundred in the last World Cup final. But then, he attacked because he must. In Test cricket he attacked because he could. He refused to be bogged down by bowling or inhibited by pressure, and did not allow a frown to cross his brow except when an injustice has been observed or an uncharitable remark had upset him, and then he spoke his mind with the same directness that marked his batting.

Gilchrist was a magnificent willow-wielder. Released from worry by his work behind the sticks, he was able to express his temperament at the crease. Fortunately he had the range of strokes needed to meet the occasion: the swing of a swordsman, an ability to assess the length of the ball in an instant, plenty of power, and a wide range of strokes off both feet. Always he looked for opportunities to score, giving ground to defence only when every alternative had been removed. It took fierce reverse-swing or probing spin offered early in the innings to unsettle him. Otherwise he was not easily troubled let alone dismissed.


Even now it is possible to remember him flying through the air to take glides down the leg side © Reuters
 

Yet it is not the keeping or batting that defined him. Throughout his career Gilchrist played in his own time and by his own lights. Although it could cause misunderstandings, his decision to start walking was not a gimmick calculated to improve his popularity. Rather, it was a conclusion reached almost by accident, whose merit he swiftly recognised. Likewise his reluctance to appeal for anything and everything upset the bowlers. Accordingly he was obliged to tread the fine line between serving the interests of the team and applying his personal code. Occasionally he was chastised for swaying too far in one or other direction but these were trifling matters that will not mar his reputation. No-one is perfect.

Above all, Gilchrist was a sportsman. Nothing held against him would have raised a murmur from someone else. Cricket will miss his smile and sense of fun and also his panache with the bat. Australians will miss the sight of him walking through the gate when the team was in trouble or else when quick runs were required. Everyone will remember the dynamic hundred struck in Perth against England.

Every significant passing produces a hundred memories. Gilchrist's also brings forth a hundred smiles. He has been a mighty cricketer who did his best to serve the side, entertain spectators and improve the way the game was played. The amazing thing is not that he occasionally faltered. The amazing thing is that he so often succeeded.

Peter Roebuck is a former captain of Somerset and the author, most recently, of In It to Win It

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • RoshanF on January 28, 2008, 6:29 GMT

    It is sad to hear that one of cricket's most dashing cavalier batsmen is going to hang up his boots. There is no doubt that together with Sanath Jayasuriya he was cricket's most feared and destructive batsmen of the past two decades.

    But I do not agree with Peter Roebuck when he says that Adam Gichrist has given more outright joy to followers of the game more than anybody since Garfield Sobers. Because Roebuck and others who had the pleasure of watching cricket in the late 70s and 80s should recall the times of a certain Viv Richards who played the game at a height that are only reached in one's wildest dreams. While I agree one tends to get carried away when you hear of favourite players retiring, responsible scribes would do well not to fall victim to this fallacy.

    But I agree that the cricketing world will miss the sight of one of the greatest entertainers the game has seen and an out an out gentleman at that as well. Well played sir!

  • visn on January 28, 2008, 5:45 GMT

    Now that Gilchrist is joining Pollock on retirement, the SA tour to AUS has lost a lot of it's appeal with the exit of these star sportsmen. I have also been on edge over Hayden ( keep goin!) and India's top six! Significant part's of our lives have been spent following these players, ( Pollock over 300 ODIS! etc), and now that's Gilchrist's joined Jayasuriya and Pollock, it's like being hit in the stomach.

  • valvolux on January 28, 2008, 5:14 GMT

    There are only 3 times when all of australia stops - anzaac day, the melbourne cup and when Gilly came into bat. He changed the game more than warne or mcgrath. Good luck Gilly - now will he retire in the west or move back home to nsw? Was so great to have him over in Perth!

    By the way, i know he's a left hand batsman - but i'm 99% sure he's actually right handed..at least he throws the ball right handed. That makes those leg side catches even more impressive. Strange quirk the aussies have there...hayden and langer are right handed, clarke is left handed, hussey is right handed, gilly right handed - i think it pays off to bat with your opposite hand!

  • cricketmama on January 27, 2008, 22:49 GMT

    It says something about a man, that fans from rival teams love him as much as his own. Like many others, I too was shocked & saddened by Gilly's announcement, and yes, shed some tears. I can't imagine an Australian team without Gilly. Look forward to seeing you in the shorter versions of the game.

  • Arijit_in_TO on January 27, 2008, 22:35 GMT

    Say if ain't so. Every wicketkeeper that retires hereafter will be compared to Gilly. He was truly a prototype for the modern game. I must say that while it may not have been his 'best' knock, I was awed by his 122 in Mumbai during that unforgettable 2000-01 series. He came in with the game evenly poised and took over, outsmashing Hayden while belting India's bowlers all over the park.

  • Orebon on January 27, 2008, 20:09 GMT

    Great loss. Will be missed. Sadly, all great things come to an end.

    In a way, I am glad he decided to call it a day now rather be pushed out of the team by the selectors. His falling standards behind the stumps (dropping a couple of sitters in this series) would only intensify the scrutiny of his batting performances which has not been that great (Average 30.22 since the Ashes 2005).

  • Nabeel-A-Adeel on January 27, 2008, 19:45 GMT

    Gilchrist was certainly the greatest wicketkeeper batsman ever to have played the game.He redefined a wiketkeeper's job by winning matches with his bat.No praise is enough for the way he turned matches around when his team was in trouble and needed him to play a big innings to rescue them.I dont think any wicketkeeper has averaged about 50 in tests in the history of cricket.The most important and memorable aspect of gilly's game though was him walking as soon as he was out.To do that in this age where matches are so intensly fought shows what a true gentleman he was.Australian team over the recent past has not been known for the very best of behaviours on the field but gilly was a class apart and always played in the spirit of the game.I think gilly was a huge factor in Australia becming the number 1 team in the world.He will undoubtedly be the wicketkeeper in any all time great cricket 11.For the cricketer and the gentleman that he was,cricket world would surely miss him.Good byeGilly

  • Bongwonder on January 27, 2008, 16:50 GMT

    "A life shud be measured not by the no. of breaths but by the no. of moments that take ur breath away" and Gilchirst you've well n truly lived upto this saying in letter and spirit. It saddens me no end to come to terms with the fact that a cricketer as brilliant as Adam Gilchirst is going to retire.Gilly has been a superb entertainer and much of the credit for Australia's dream run should go to his breath taking performances.I have often read or heard about him being addressed as wicket keeper/ batsman which I think kind of dilutes his ability either as keeper or batsman.When it comes to keeping ,I haven't seen a better keeper in the last 20 years . As a batsman I am sure you are feared much more than Sir Vivian Richards.Adam Gilchirst I salute you for being such a fantastic cricketer and also for being the gentleman u r.The cricketing fraternity would truly miss you.If u've a change of mind, India awaits u with open arms;even @ 50 yrs u'd do a better job than the Dhonis of the world

  • din7 on January 27, 2008, 16:25 GMT

    I was completely shocked when i hear the news that gilly is retiring. i am his biggest fan.I had seen his innings against srilanka in the worldcup final oh;what an inning that was!I use to wait for him to enter the ground. many of his innings were magnificient and his Sixes, those talking to skies i will miss it drastically.He was a wonderful person as everybody knows.There was hardly any person in cricket as liable as gilly. I am really going to miss him. please, gilly show your power in CB series.

  • Odeti on January 27, 2008, 14:19 GMT

    Gilly, I love the even game more when you are playing. Gilchrist will be remembered as Best batsmen + ethics. But I have a regret, that you should have played 4 more test matches to take the tally to 100 test matches. The reason I would say is down the lane, 10 years later when people starts showing the stats, like people who played 100 test matches, I would love to have the memories striking back. People may say statastics are nothing, but its the gift that makes player alive through out the cricketing era.

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