March 9, 2002

Gilchrist towers above Newlands Test

With South Africa as competitive as at any stage this summer, the second day of the second Test match at Newlands contained just about everything: aggressive Australian batting, a collapse and a 100th wicket for South Africa's Paul Adams. Above all else, though, towered the figure of Adam Gilchrist.

The Australian wicketkeeper and vice-captain followed his unbeaten 204 with 138 not out as the tourists replied to South Africa's 239 with 382 all out. When stumps were drawn 10 overs early because of bad light, Gary Kirsten and Herschelle Gibbs had knocked seven off the 143-run deficit.

Gilchrist was simple awesome, playing better than he had at the Wanderers in more challenging circumstances. Australia had continued the good start made on Friday evening until a mid-innings collapse saw them slip from 162 for two to 185 for six as Makhaya Ntini and Adams, in his comeback Test match, scythed through the middle order.

For once the Australians were under pressure, but you might not have believed it as Shane Warne joined Gilchrist to carry the attack right back to the South Africans. It took the pair just 102 minutes to put together 132 for the seventh wicket with Warne just about matching Gilchrist blow for blow.

In the context of the match, though perhaps not the series, it was a vital stand and while for once South Africa's head did not drop, they were virtually helpless as the game was wrenched away from them.

Ntini and Adams bowled with great courage and no little skill. Adams hasn't really been even on the fringes of the Test side since fracturing a finger against England two years ago, but he was instrumental in engineering the collapse as he had Ricky Ponting caught at the wicket and then bowled Steve Waugh off his pads for a duck. Ntini chipped in with the wickets of Mark Waugh and Damien Martyn and Australia were wobbling.

It seemed to make not the slightest bit of difference to Gilchrist, although he was prepared to concede afterwards that "it was nice to come out of a challenging position, a bit of adversity, on top".

As unlikely as it may seem, Gilchrist played better than he had at the Wanderers when he scored the fastest Test double-century recorded in terms of balls faced. Even when Warne finally departed for a 66-ball 63, Gilchrist carried on attack. Indeed, if anything he upped the tempo.

The last three Australian wickets added 65. Of these Glenn McGrath scored exactly 2 with the rest going to Gilchrist apart from a bye or two here and there. He rather spoiled Adams' figures towards the end, taking the aerial route whenever it was pitched far enough up and he has now passed 2 000 runs in just 30 Test matches at the extraordinary average of 61,48. Of those who have played in 15 or more Tests, only one other player, another Australian, has a better average.

Adams was excellent in his comeback match, bowling with control and confidence. In a summer overshadowed by political wrangling in South African cricket, perhaps the greater significance is that he is the first South African player of colour to take 100 Test wickets and although he initially claimed he was "just a player, just a South Africa", he conceded that "it's something special for a lot of non-white kids, something they can look up to and achieve".

Both Adams and Warne, on the first day, have turned the ball, but this is not to say that the pitch is likely to break up. All things being equal, Australia's lead is still likely to prove decisive and if South Africa are to save this Test they will produce a sustained and determined effort, the likes of which has only been rarely apparent this summer.