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Former Australasia editor, ESPNcricinfo

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Gillespie steps down in Adelaide

Jason Gillespie, Australia's sixth-most successful Test wicket-taker, has announced his retirement in Adelaide

Peter English

February 29, 2008

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Jason Gillespie was popular with team-mates and supporters, but not with opposition batsmen © Getty Images

Jason Gillespie, Australia's sixth-most successful Test wicket-taker, has announced his retirement in Adelaide, preferring to choose his time to go rather than being pushed. A player who developed a cult following with his mean bowling, brick-wall batting and wild hair, Gillespie leaves as one of the most determined men to have represented his country.

While only 32, Gillespie's body has gone through so much physical hardship that it feels - and looks - much older. He has not represented the national team since scoring a double-century in 2006 and departs the game in Australia as one of the most respected modern-day bowlers. He has signed a three-year deal with the Indian Cricket League and is unsure what that means for his scheduled 2008 stint with Glamorgan.

The current Pura Cup game against Queensland will be his last and he used the first day's lunch break to confirm the decision. "It has always been important to me to end my career on my own terms, while I am still contributing," he said. "I do not want to get tapped on the shoulder and shown the door. And the time has come.

"I have a young family to consider. My daughter has reached her teens - I have travelled for all of her life - I think it is time I was around for her, and her brothers and my wife.

Gillespie played 71 Tests, starting against West Indies in 1996, and captured 259 wickets at 26.13, his best return of 7 for 37 coming when he frightened England during a blistering spell at Headlingley in 1997. Despite his ability for extreme speed, he usually operated slightly within himself, giving the batsmen more chance to edge his jagging deliveries and keeping a bit in reserve for a frame that was on the verge of breaking down until the final third of his playing days.

"I am grateful to Cricket Australia for sticking by me early in my career when I was plagued by injuries," he said. "And I am grateful to the selectors who continued to have faith and select me to play in more than 175 first-class matches."

The 2005 tour of England looked like being his final series when he was dropped for the fourth Test after only three wickets at 100. As Gillespie and Glenn McGrath, the most successful opening pair in the country's history, sat in the dressing room, Australia lost the Test that would lead to Ashes defeat.

Determined to prove he was not washed up - despite the emerging grey streaks in his mop of hair he was only 30 - he did not step down and remained a committed player for South Australia, the state which missed him whenever injury or international commitments intervened. A season of 30 Pura Cup wickets kept his name prominent and his final tour of Test duty arrived with a trip to Bangladesh when injuries struck Shaun Tait and Michael Kasprowicz while McGrath was caring for his sick wife.

Jason Gillespie's first Test century arrived in Bangladesh and soon became a double © Getty Images

Gillespie not only answered the call, he starred in a Man-of-the-Series performance as he captured eight wickets and scored 201, his first century, as a nightwatchman in Chittagong. It was an appropriate reward for the years he spent working on his batting, particularly his defence, which boosted Australia on numerous occasions.

"I have been fortunate to wear the Australian colours and you all contributed to my dream of playing for Australia," he said referring to his national team-mates and support staff. "The crowds, the wickets and a beer in the change room afterwards are some of the best memories a cricketer can have, and I am lucky enough to have experienced them all."

Gillespie thanked Robert Crouch, "my great friend and trainer", for saving his career on "more than one occasion". Jeff Hammond, the former South Australia coach, was praised for teaching Gillespie how to bowl and Darren Lehmann for showing him "how to play the game the right way".

He spent the past two seasons playing for South Australia while holding a Cricket Australia contract, but he was not required for any more international action after Bangladesh. Gillespie scored his first Pura Cup century during the current season - another one came in 2007 at Yorkshire - and collected 24 wickets heading into the match against Queensland, including 7 for 58 against Western Australia.

In one-day internationals Gillespie grabbed 142 ODI wickets at 25.42, which put in him in seventh on Australia's list and he appeared in 97 matches. A heel injury robbed him of World Cup glory in 2003 - he played four matches before succumbing - and a back disc problem meant he wasn't picked for the 1999 triumph.

There were plenty of other prizes and he played parts in four Ashes victories, Frank Worrell Trophy successes and was crucial as Australia broke a 35-year drought in India in 2004-05. Twenty wickets were a tremendous return on surfaces that did not generally suit the fast men and there was much praise for his 26 to seal a draw in Chennai and retain Australia's series advantage.

Like his long-term team-mate Kasprowicz, who retired in February, Gillespie was able to leave Tests on a high, even if the exit happened earlier than both wanted. Despite the quiet end to his first-class career, Australia will remember Gillespie at his best, when he gave his body to his country.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

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