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On his day, Gary Gilmour could change the game with bat or ball, but a debilitating foot injury, the Packer era and an offhand attitude to fitness meant he played his last Test at 25
June 10, 2014
This interview was published in The Age in March 2003
The photographer is ready to start snapping and Gary Gilmour is fishing about for props. The living room is stuffed with them. He ignores the beer mugs autographed by Australia's 1975 Ashes squad. He steers clear of his Centenary Test bat, blackened with spidery signatures. He goes straight for his baggy green cap. It's the first thing you notice when you walk in: a shimmering, strangely intimidating presence on the mantelpiece. And dazzlingly, ludicrously green. It looks as if it has never been touched.
"This one's not like Steve Waugh's," he says. "Look, it's still brand new inside. Never wore it once. Couldn't stand the thing. It was bloody uncomfortable."
Mid-afternoon and the Gilmour household is abuzz with activity. His three sons traipse in and out, sliding bemused glances at the couch. It's not everyday some bloke with a tape recorder hangs on the old man's every word.
All the boys play cricket, two of them first grade. And all of them, once a month or so, dig out the tapes of that inaugural 1975 World Cup - when Gus, for two days in June, was king. "The long hair, the long sideburns. When you hear them laughing you know they're watching the World Cup videos."
The English batsmen didn't see the funny side in the semi-final. Gus had been 12th man throughout the preliminary matches. Now he was asked, ahead of Jeff Thomson, to share the new ball with Dennis Lillee. "I only found out as we were going out on the field," he said. "You never knew with Ian Chappell what was going to happen until it happened."
Chappell's timing was impeccable. Headingley was blanketed in cloud and the ball was spitting and reversing, darting every which way. Gus, a brisk left-arm swing bowler, was in heaven. "They kept shouldering arms and the ball swung back in and did the rest," he said. "I wanted to bowl and bowl. I didn't want my overs to run out."
His figures still defy belief. Twelve overs, six maidens, 6 for 14. When Wisden compiled a list of the 100 greatest one-day bowling performances in 2002, based on 10 sets of statistical gobbledegook, Gilmour's 6 for 14 was No. 1.
I intended to ask whether that pleased him, but there's no need. On another wall is the list.
Still he wasn't finished. Australia, chasing 93, were 6-39 when Gus joined Doug Walters. "I was still on a high. I felt like I was infallible and I was going to be the hero." A few lusty blows and lucky edges later, Gus had creamed a run-a-ball 28. Australia was home. "It was one of those days," he said, "that happen once or twice in your lifetime."
Three days later it happened again. The West Indies won a gripping final by 17 runs but nothing could stop Gus. His 5-48 included four king-size scalps: Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Alvin Kallicharran and Rohan Kanhai. The key wicket was Lloyd for 102. "They still say it was a doubtful decision," smiles Gus. "But I'll take it. The other blokes got out throwing the bat." Another smile. "I wouldn't say I bowled brilliantly."
He averaged 42 with the bat in one-day internationals and 10.31 with the ball. Had he sustained those figures over 50 matches, he would be as famous as Garry Sobers. But Gus played only five one-dayers.
"Test cricket was what we played for," he said. "One-day cricket was something you had to do for your boss because he was paying the bills." Back in 1975 the World Cup was the "social event of the year". All the teams stayed together and drank together. Strategies started and ended at deciding whether you would retire to the hotel bar or venture further afield.
|"I couldn't play under today's conditions, what with the travelling and training and scientific aspects. It's not a sport any more, it's like going to work"|
"I couldn't play under today's conditions, what with the travelling and training and scientific aspects. It's not a sport any more, it's like going to work. You know how some mornings you get up and don't want to go to work - that's how I'd feel playing cricket these days. I'd clock on for a sickie."
But it doesn't answer the elusive question: whatever happened to Gary Gilmour? It doesn't explain why Australia's last genuine allrounder - a man who swung matches with bat, ball and a ready grin - played his final Test at 25. Or maybe it does.
The photo session over, Gus plonks himself back on the couch. He's breathing heavily. Fitness, so they say, never was his strong point. "That's pretty unfair," he shot back. True, he didn't fancy sit-ups and push-ups. "But in the nets no one worked harder than me."
There is a story of Gilmour, in his World Series Cricket days, being threatened with a $1000 fine unless he could run four kilometres in 15 minutes. It was as if Kerry Packer had asked him to pilot a space shuttle. "I had Ray Bright as my frontrunner and Rick McCosker up my arse. Every time I lagged back, McCosker gave me a push." When four minutes were up they caught a cab and measured, on its tachometer, how far he had run. He made it. "I always told Packer there were sprinters and stayers. A Golden Slipper winner never won a Melbourne Cup."
Rudimentary medical practices were a bigger curse, he said. He bowled all summer in 1976-77 with a bone "the size of a five-cent piece" floating around his heel. When his performances plummeted, the selectors kept choosing him, thinking he was simply out of form. By the time the Centenary Test came round he could hardly walk. "I was a fool," he says, for not pulling out. He bowled nine overs, made 4 and 16, and never played another Test.
His bitterness at missing out on the 1977 Ashes tour is palpable. He shared a drink and chat with the selectors, who had secretly picked the squad, during the Centenary Test. "They didn't have enough guts to tell me," he said. "I was driving over the Sydney Harbour Bridge one night and the team was read out. My name wasn't in it. That really peeved me."
Once peace was declared and Packer packed up his caravan, the Chappells, Lillees and Marshes were welcomed back. Not Gus. "They had me earmarked for destruction." He played two more matches for NSW and was dropped forever. His last pay cheque totalled $109 for four days' work. "I was only 27 and that was the end of my career."
He is 51 now. He coaches a bit and gets invited to the occasional class-of-75 reunion. "Plenty of state reunions too but I don't go to them." So, 26 years on, is he glad he signed up with Packer? "From a financial point of view, yes. From a career point of view ...," his voice trails off. That baggy green cap is staring straight at him. "... I don't know. The jury's still out."
For a while he could have been anything. His World Cup final should have been just the beginning. Only with Gus Gilmour, the cap never quite fit.
Christian Ryan is a writer based in Melbourne. He is the author of Golden Boy and Australia: Story of a Cricket Country. His new book is Rock CountryFeeds: Christian Ryan
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