June 12, 2014

A glimpse of genius

Gary Gilmour was a supremely talented allrounder but his international record doesn't tell you just how much ability he possessed

Gary Gilmour took an amazing 11 wickets in the semi-final and final of the 1975 World Cup © Getty Images

Gary Gilmour was a super-talented cricketer. A left-hander, he was a fabulous attacking bat; a medium-fast bowler with the ability to swing the ball in late from outside off stump; and he fielded like a Trojan, whether at short leg or in the deep.

In terms of raw talent, Gilmour's ability was up in the stratosphere, where only the legendary reside. He was like a very raw Garry Sobers. Truly, Gilmour possessed that sort of amazing talent, but those who played against him and alongside him rarely saw him use it to full advantage.

There were glimpses of his pure genius, like on that day at Headingley in 1975 when he took 6 for 14 off 12 overs (six maidens) to destroy England in the first semi-final of cricket's first World Cup. He swung the ball alarmingly and late. Most of his deliveries were late swinging induckers to the right-handers, but he got one to angle away from Tony Greig and the resultant snick was caught in fantastic fashion by a diving Rodney Marsh.

Gilmour played 15 Test matches, hitting an unremarkable 483 runs at 23.00 with one century, and taking 54 wickets at an average of 26.03. He bagged three hauls of five wickets in an innings. He also took a total of eight catches, but the figures don't tell, by a long shot, just how much ability this man possessed. He was likened to Alan Davidson, who next to Keith Miller, is Australia's greatest all-round cricketer. Davo was very much a mentor to Gilmour and encouraged his protégé over his short international career.

One of Gilmour's best mates was the legendary Doug Walters. They toured England together in 1975, and later New Zealand. It was there that Gary, or Gus as he was affectionately known, scored his one and only century, in partnership with Walters, in the summer of 1976-77.

The team stayed at the Avon Hotel in Christchurch, at the well-stocked bar of which, during the Test match, Australia team manager Roger Wotton had a beer with Walters. They were joined by Gilmour.

Late into the night Wotton rang the vice-captain, Marsh, to announce that Gilmour and Walters were still in the bar. Rodney assured Wotton that Doug and Gus knew exactly what they were doing.

The next day Walters and Gilmour, the not-out batsmen, resumed their partnership. Doug always says that after Richard Hadlee's first couple of overs, where the ball somehow missed the edge, he mysteriously started to find the middle. Gus also found a similar enlightenment and the pair went on to thrash the hapless attack mercilessly. Walters went on to score a Test-career-high 250 and Gilmour his maiden Test century, 101.

In terms of raw talent, Gilmour's ability was up in the stratosphere where only the legendary reside. He was like a very raw Garry Sobers

While Gus' fame centred about his 6 for 14, he took 16 wickets in only five ODIs at an average of 10.31, with an economy rate of 3.09 and a strike rate of 20. In the first World Cup final at Lord's in 1975, Gilmour took 5 for 48, his wicket haul comprising Alvin Kallicharran (12), Rohan Kanhai (55), Clive Lloyd (101), Viv Richards (5) and Deryck Murray (14). During that match Lloyd hit a few furious drives past the bowler. Gilmour, who always had a good sense of humour, was asked at a press conference: "How do you bowl to Clive Lloyd?"

"With a crash helmet on," he said.

Gus wasn't all that keen on doing all the running and physical jerks that have snuck into the game since around the time Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket took the establishment by the scruff of the neck and shook the living daylights out of it in a grand quest to grab television broadcasting rights and get the players a better financial deal. Gilmour played World Series Cricket for the odd good payday, but just prior to that 1977-78 season, he went to South Africa with an International Wanderers team, managed by Richie Benaud.

There were a number of Australians there, including the Chappell brothers, Dennis Lillee, Martin Kent, and yours truly. Also England's Derek Underwood, Mike Denness, Dennis Amiss and Keith Fletcher; John Shepherd of West Indies; and New Zealanders Glenn Turner, Lance Cairns and John Morrison. We played a South African XI that included the great Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock and Clive Rice, but Gilmour, nursing a torn hamstring, turned a match on its head by hitting a whirlwind 85 from No. 10, when all hope was lost. Thanks to Gus, we snatched that match from the jaws of defeat.

Sadly, after his cricket career had long passed, illness struck. And in 2005 Gus had to undergo a life-saving liver transplant. His cricketing mates gathered around and helped raise funds for the operation, which occurred in 2007. It was touch and go, for the ideal donor liver couldn't be found until just three weeks before the critical deadline. His one-time Test and ODI captain Ian Chappell led the fundraising efforts, rallying the troops to help his mate. All appeared to be going swimmingly, until illness again beset the brilliant allrounder. This time he could not be saved. Gary Gilmour died at Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney on June 10.

Much sadness was visited upon the Gilmour family just months before, when one of Gus' three sons, Clint, died of a brain cancer, aged just 33. Gus is survived by his wife, Helen, and sons Ben and Sam.

Gus is probably already gearing up for a tilt at Victor Trumper on that splendid stretch of turf at the highest level. Those who played alongside him know how richly talented he was, and we are all the better for having known him.

Ashley Mallett took 132 wickets in 38 Tests for Australia. He has written biographies of Clarrie Grimmett, Doug Walters, Jeff Thomson, Ian Chappell, and most recently of Dr Donald Beard, The Diggers' Doctor