February 5, 2008

Gilchrist: beautifully used

Australia's masterstroke with Gilchrist wasn't starting him at seven, but keeping him there

Lucky seven: many other teams would have pushed Gilchrist up the order once he began scoring big © AFP

To the victor, the spoils. And to the retiring member of a victorious team, even more spoils. Adam Gilchrist has been praised to the skies, like Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne a year ago - perhaps more so, with his ability to combine genius with dignity. And he deserves all the applause, but one of the factors behind his success has been underplayed. He wasn't just an outstanding player; he was used in an outstanding way.

In Tests, he nearly always batted at number seven. At first, this was just standard stuff. Most teams stick the keeper at seven, and Australian teams nearly always do, with their rock-solid habit of playing six specialist batsmen and four bowlers. (If Andrew Symonds keeps on growing into a true Test allrounder, he will be their first one since Richie Benaud.) Australia's masterstroke with Gilchrist wasn't starting him at seven, but keeping him there.

Many other teams would have pushed him up the order once he began to get big scores, which he did straightaway - 81 off 88 balls in his first Test, a matchwinning 149 not out off 163 in his second, both against Pakistan. (With Gilchrist, even more than other modern players, you have to log the balls.) But if Steve Waugh felt any temptation to promote Gilchrist, he largely resisted it. He gave him a single go at number four in a third-innings thrash against India at the MCG in 1999-2000 (he made 55 off 73), and one at three in a far more tense third innings, in the final Test of the epic 2001 series, when Gilchrist fell lbw to Harbhajan Singh for the third time in four and added another 1 to a bizarre sequence of 122, 0, 0 and 1.

There was also one outing at six against England at The Oval in 2001, when Gilchrist joined Waugh himself in the middle with Australia 489 for 3 (Justin Langer had retired hurt). But Gilchrist was just as likely to go down the order as up: Waugh used a nightwatchman more often than you might think, which gave Gilchrist the chance to put his feet up for even longer, before sauntering out as the world's scariest number eight.

The only man to have scored more Test runs in the bottom five is Kapil, who made 4828 in 163 innings outside the top six. Gilchrist managed almost as many - 4429 - in 51 fewer innings

Later, he had a couple of brief stints at number six, but not because Waugh or Ricky Ponting wanted him any higher: it was just to make room for a fifth bowler, on the rare occasions when the Aussies decided they needed a second spinner. Gilchrist ended up batting 100 times at number seven, and 12 times at eight, out of 137 innings in 96 Tests (more often than not, he didn't need to bat twice in a match). He was simply the best number seven in history. He made more runs there than anyone else, and dwarfed any of his rivals' strike rate - his was 83, well ahead of other six-hitting sevens. Kapil Dev came close with 78, in a more sedate era; but Andrew Flintoff (68), Lance Klusener (65), Chris Cairns (63) and Ian Botham (62) were all way behind.

Gilchrist's presence and power meant that, while many opponents had it in them to reduce Australia to, say, 230 for 5, few could bowl them out for less than 400. Waugh had hit on a simple truth: that the fall of the fifth wicket is often a fork in the road of a game. One more wicket, and the fielding side are down to the tail; one decent stand, and they are knackered; one blast from Gilchrist, and they are a rabble.

The only man to have scored more Test runs in the bottom five is Kapil, who made 4828 in 163 innings outside the top six. Gilchrist managed almost as many - 4429 - in 51 fewer innings. He averaged 46 in the bottom five, to Kapil's 31. Gilchrist's tally of 13 Test hundreds in the bottom half of the order is the same as the next two players - Kapil and Botham - put together. As the seventh batsman in a mighty line-up, Gilchrist often had to wait exceptionally long for his turn. But when he got in, he was explosive. He was like a perfect pay-off line: all the better for being delayed.

Tim de Lisle is the author of Young Wisden. His website is www.timdelisle.com

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Phani on February 6, 2008, 14:16 GMT

    Gilchrist is a rare jewel. There is no second thought to it. All statistics presented by Tim find him superior. However apart from Hobart, Mumbai, Perth innings and possibly the double century in SA most of his innings were consolidation. He was not very successful in the series that Australia lost.On the other hand Kapil Dev, Ian Botham and possibly Imran Khan (?) can boast of some great innings even in lost cause. Frankly if one goes by saying when going gets tough the tough get going.... I dont know if Gilly will be number one. I see others have played much better knocks in more adverse circumstances, although their contributions may not have helped team's cause.

    Gilly has been part of a highly successful team and is primarily a wicket keeper. I do not know if he can be compared with bowling allrounders.

    He is my all time best keeper batsman No.2 behind Andy Flower of Zimbabwe and a VERY exciting batsman but he will not be my all time Mr adversity

  • Lama on February 6, 2008, 5:35 GMT

    The Australian team is going to have a big problem trying to replace Gilchrist. The way he contributed in ODIs and Tests for Australia, and the way he saved them from different embarrassing situations, it will not be possible for any upcoming wicketkeeper to do so. Let's see how the Australian team responds.

  • Justin on February 6, 2008, 3:12 GMT

    Great article. There's no doubt that Gilchrist was most potent at 7. For me he defined the Steve Waugh era - that guys owes Gilly more than a few bottles of fine red. During his first few years in the test arena Gilly was the most dependable player...not batsmen, bowler or keeper but player in the game. I would guess it was 9/10 times he could be relied on to rescue an innings but it felt like 10/10 that he actually delivered. It didn't matter what position we were in, we as a nation not only trusted but knew that he was going to bring things right. It wasn't until the 05 ashes when we were struggling in our first innings and Gilly came out to bat that he failed us....it was a really strange feeling when all of a sudden he wasn't delivering to his lofty standards. But even in recent years he was still able to remind us of why we kept him at 7 and why we always stopped what we were doing when he came out to bat - the guy could literally take your breath away.

  • Raza on February 6, 2008, 1:39 GMT

    Damn Timmy, that was a good article. I opine Gilchrist was the greatest and most valuable player amongst his contemporaries; I don't take Warne, McGrath, etc. lightly, but they were pretty graceless. Adam's loss will hit the Aussies harder in Tests than the loss of either McGrath or Warne. Obviously, since the Aussies carried on without much of a dent with the loss of both Warne and McGrath, it remains to be seen how much of an impact that will be exactly.

  • David on February 6, 2008, 1:08 GMT

    All-rounder is a term that has always been used poorly. There are four disciplines in cricket - batting, bowling, fielding and wicket-keeping. Perhaps some may say that fielding should be discounted as everyone is expected to perform in that area (although we have seen some instances where players clearly don't, haven't we Tuffy!).

    Surely then an "all-rounder" should be someone that is capable in all disciplines? Obviously that is unlikely as you are not going to get a bowler who gets the opportunity to prove themselves behind the stumps or vice-versa. If then an all-rounder is someone that can check only two of the boxes then why can't it include wicketkeeper / batsmen?

    Gilly has shown expertise in two disciplines, keeping and batting. He is in my eyes one of the greatest all-rounders we will ever see.

  • Gautam on February 5, 2008, 20:10 GMT

    I wouldn't say Stuart Clark "has done well all over the world" since all over the world implies playing in 9 different Test countries or at least in different conditions... not 3 Tests in South Africa and 1 in Bangladesh. He has done exceptionally well at home and it remains to be seen if he can scale Glenn McGrath's heights.

    Coming to Gilchrist however, it does not appear that anyone will be overcoming his batting exploits any time soon. The following statement has become quite pithy but is well worth repeating: he simply revolutionized the role of the wicket-keeper in the game. And what a gentleman too. He will be missed.

  • Nishant on February 5, 2008, 18:46 GMT

    I think there were more reasons to keep Gilly at seven. As a wicketkeeper, Gilly would normally keep wickets for about 60 to 90 odd overs per inning. To have him come out and bat at 3 or 4 would have been too much to ask for. Sangakkara is a great example of this. For the first part of his career, he kept wickets and also batted at number 3. Now that he has started playing as a specialist batsman, look at the changes in his stats. It's not because he has changed his game, it is in part because he is fresh when he comes in to bat and therefore can concentrate better. India's experiment with Parthiv Patel as opener didn't go too because his performances in front and behind the wickets started falling away. May be the reason wasn't simply his technique but also fatigue and concentration. It would be interesting to know how Alec Stewart and Kamran Akmal's stats stand up to this theory. (While they opened batting) I can't think of any other wicketkeeper in recent history who batted in top 4

  • Shamsur on February 5, 2008, 16:09 GMT

    There's no doubt that Gilly is an awesome player with explosive batting style. But don't you think his batting style and his # 7 position were depending on the success of the Australian top order. I mean try playing like that at #7 playing for countries like Bangladesh (no sweat, I am a Bangladeshi). With all due respect to Gilly, I think his success as an explosive batsman was vastly reliant on the team he played for and the batsmen he followed.

  • Karen on February 5, 2008, 14:23 GMT

    and haven't lost a series since in fact have only lost one test match. They had Stuart Clark to replace Glenn as a line and length bowler (and has done it brilliantly all over the world on all sorts of wickets) we had Stuart McGill to replace Warnie (unfortunately got injured, but a very capable replacement who's a bigger spinner than Warnie) no the experience our youngsters gain before making this great Australian team is faultless. There are not thrown in at the deep end and expected to perform straight away they are getting alot of runs in first class cricket for years, or taking alot of 1st class wickets. Australia will go on dominating for years to come as when a player retires a more than capable one takes his place. Unlike say the Indians who change teams like we change our knickers, their test team is going to suffer greatly by the loss of Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly, just like their one day team already suffers without them.

  • Karen on February 5, 2008, 14:10 GMT

    I agree Gilchrist will be greatly missed he was so destructive in all forms of the game but he was down on runs and glovework was suffering too. Haddin by no means as great a player as Gilly, though he has been groomed to take over from Gilly for a few years now and Australia lose nothing with Haddin as a more than ready and capable replacement (you can never replace legends of the game with another legend). Haddin has averaged 50 in domestic cricket (the best and strongest domestic competition in the world) and has been playing for the Aussies now for a couple of seasons as a stand in for Gilly while he has been rested or as a batsmen.It's nonsense to say Australia will be much less dominate (more like wishful thinking by the other countries) the thing with Australia is they lost 2 of the best bowlers the world has ever seen in one go(not to mention Langer - who along with Hayden were the most successful opening batsmen ever, and Martyn who was a great and elegant batsmen too)

  • No featured comments at the moment.