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Gilchrist's greatest contribution was the way he changed how the world looked at wicketkeepers
March 4, 2008
One of my first memories of Adam Gilchrist is of his counterattacking century against Pakistan in Hobart in 1999, which in partnership with Justin Langer helped Australia chase down 369 from 124 for 5. Another innings I fondly remember is the double-century he scored against South Africa in Johannesburg in 2001-02. When he came in, the second new ball had been taken. I remember the commentators saying that he didn't much like to face the new ball - but in two hours he had a double-century.
Those were the kind of innings that proved a wicketkeeper batting lower down the order could be the most important member of the side when it came to sealing and winning games. You could have imagined something of that sort in ODIs, but he was doing it in Test cricket, where no one had seen a No. 7 quite like that, coming in and murdering attacks and then going behind the stumps to do a wonderful job.
That is what Adam meant to international cricket: he completely changed the way we looked at wicketkeepers. After his ascent, specialist wicketkeepers started taking a back seat and wicketkeepers who could contribute big runs with the bat came into prominence. He put a lot of pressure on other teams to unearth players who would become genuine wicketkeeping allrounders.
That his wicketkeeping was often overlooked is a compliment to his batting, and more importantly to his wicketkeeping. When your wicketkeeping is being noticed, there is normally a problem. Adam was an excellent wicketkeeper - maybe not in the same bracket as Ian Healy, but definitely one of the best going around in world cricket today. It would have been very difficult for him to step into Healy's shoes, but it was clear from the start that he was not trying to be another Healy; he was himself. Just as I have to keep to Murali, he had Shane Warne to keep to. When you have such great spinners in your side, it puts your keeping under scrutiny. You have to raise your keeping skills to match those of the bowlers you are keeping to. If you look at Adam's career, he has been consistently good, and that's exactly what you look for in a wicketkeeper.
He was exactly the shot in the arm Australian cricket needed at the time: an explosive batsman who held his own with his wicketkeeping and did more than that with his batting. They could be 150 for 5, and then end up with 400-plus, with Adam batting in the company of tailenders and getting big runs.
There was a time when bowlers around the world developed the strategy of bowling at him from around the stumps. Andrew Flintoff had a fair amount of success with that, and a few left-arm bowlers were reasonably successful too, but then again, over the last year or so Adam has adapted to that by changing his guard, going from perhaps middle stump to off stump and giving the bowler less of an angle to work with.
With Adam's style of play, bowlers knew they were always in with a chance. The odd chance would come, but if the fielding side failed to grab it, the next half an hour could cost 50 or 60 runs. He was unpredictable and explosive, and bowlers naturally hate bowling to such batsmen. No matter how well you bowled, it didn't matter when he was on song. Bowlers would probably start off thinking it might be a tough day, but the thing was, they stayed interested too. Anything could happen when he batted. When he did score, he scored at a rate that took the game away before sides knew it. His batting has been fantastic for the game, as he attracted a lot of spectators. A lot of people who had come to regard Test cricket as boring changed their mind when they watched Adam bat.
|When you have such great spinners in your side, it puts your keeping under scrutiny. You have to raise your keeping skills to match those of the bowlers you are keeping to. If you look at Adam's career, he has been consistently good, and that's exactly what you look for in a wicketkeeper|
When it came to wicketkeepers, I watched Healy and Allan Knott, and as far as batting inspirations went, mine were Viv Richards and Aravinda de Silva. Adam may not have been an inspiration to me in that sense, but he was someone I respected and watched all the same. He raised the benchmark, and made me want to raise my game: made me want to score big enough to be recognised as a batsman in my own right, rather than just as a wicketkeeper-batsman. The challenge he set for the rest of the world forced other players to improve and get better.
Adam was someone I found very easy to get along with and talk to. He seemed to have a lot of balance in his life. He also started the whole walking business again. You knew when he nicked he would walk. It is a concept some cricketers find hard to adhere to. A lot of people, when they are batting, wait for the umpire to make his decision, but when they are fielding they want their word to be taken when they take a catch. If some fielder says his word should be good enough to count for a dismissal, by the same measure, when he knows he has nicked the ball, he should walk. Adam had no pretences over that: he stuck to his guns, and that was the case every single time you played him. That was also very good for cricket, especially when we have so many controversies over the issue, and a bit of hypocrisy. Even some of his team-mates may not have really understood why Adam played the way he did, but that kind of character is very refreshing and necessary in modern cricket.
Quite curiously, the same man was drawn into some controversy for using a squash ball inside his glove during the World Cup final against us. Frankly, whatever you put in the glove, it's the basic skill that counts and he proved he had that. If you ask the Sri Lankan players, none of us had a single complaint about the way he played that innings. It was just heartbreaking to watch, but glorious at the same time.
The whole tri-series has been a sort of farewell for him, and with so many flocking to see him off every time he plays, it can be very emotional. But he has handled it well, perhaps because he understands why he made the decision and is comfortable with it. Everyone important to him understands this is the time to say good bye, and when you have that support, everything becomes easier. He is proving that you can walk away when you are on top, and it's good for the player and for the game.
Adam was one of the best cricketers of his time, and a refreshing breath of fresh air in modern-day cricket.
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