'Big Daddies' toy with the world
There will be enough of it about so let us get it out of the way as quickly as possible, the celebrations which shimmered in a thousand flashlights interrupted by blundering officials, the podiums now being set up, now being rushed back off the field, the television men uncabling and recabling, the man in dreads replacing the markers back on the 30-yard circle, the lies played out in the night, bowlers looping their arms over and batsmen offering dead blades and legs before it, the very joke that the ICC have become in the eyes of every cricket fan.
The final day of the ninth World Cup was an absurd and boisterous one which began with rain, ended in darkness, and in between contained an innings of lashing power and glory the likes of which observers felt a World Cup final had not seen before. This is already a tall claim to make. Clive Lloyd hit a superb captain's hundred in 1975. Viv Richards held stage four years later. Aravinda de Silva's century in 1996 was a masterpiece in pacing a chase. By the end of his innings in 2003, the modern master Ricky Ponting was hitting sixes with one hand. These are some of the finest batsmen to have played the game. Gilchrist's innings was that good.
It made loudest the statement the Australians have made all World Cup: We are the Big Daddies. Then one more time: We are the Big Daddies.
The Sri Lankan bowlers may have not risen to the occasion but after watching a tournament full of Australia taking apart teams it is possible to empathise with their plight. The thing about Australia is that you don't know what hits you and nothing can prepare you for it. They leave you dazed and senseless and feeling in every way unworthy. It is difficult to stand straight let alone bowl and field like champs with stars buzzing around the head. So demoralising was Gilchrist's assault, for example, that after being slapped for yet another boundary, the unflappable Chaminda Vaas bowled five wides and followed it with a boundary down the legside which would have been more wides were it not for a faint touch.
"We were playing catch up with them throughout the tournament and they were too good for us," said the chivalrous Mahela Jayawardene, whose gesture to shepherd this occasion to whatever dignity it could salvage will be remembered always. "They remained unbeaten in a tournament which wasn't an easy tournament to remain unbeaten in."
Without wishing to get overly war-metaphored about, the words that came to mind watching Gilchrist were aerial bombardment. Pickups and pulls and slaps and sweeps taking to the skies, over after over, several times an over. At the start he hit sixes over long-on and by the fire engine, which was just as well because the ball could have used some cooling off. One time Lasith Malinga bowled fast and full on his leg stump. He hit it inside-out and scooped it a few bounces into the mid-off fence. He holds his bat so loose and high that every stroke is a flagellation. After a point it was surreal to watch and impossible to describe.
No moment in Gilchrist's innings, however, revealed more about Australia than the delivery before his dismissal. Ricky Ponting tapped a ball fine. Gilchrist made the call and ran like hell. If the throw had hit he was out. To run that single for his partner when he was 149 made it clear what this was all about.
The ethos of Australia's achievement has been overwhelming all-for-one. Ask Glenn McGrath what he will miss most about international cricket and he answers: "The enjoyment of playing with these guys, the self-belief that we can win every single game we play." Ask Gilchrist what turned it for him in the tournament and he answers: "I do know that the belief that comes from the team-mates and coaching staff around you, its amazing how high it can lift you and that belief those guys gave me." Ask Ponting about the secret to their continual improvement and he thanks the departing coach John Buchanan: "It's not easy to take over a team that is playing good cricket and make it better, he's been able to do that with me, with Gilly, with Glenn, with Matty Hayden, all those guys have taken their games further.
"To go through and play the cricket that we have, make many very, very good international cricket teams ordinary at different times, has been special. Every day that we've gone to training, they've left at least half an hour before us so that when we get there everything is perfectly set up for us to put our spikes on and our gear on and go on training. There's no doubt we've been better prepared here than in any tournament I've been involved in."
Deservedly Australia have won this championship, deservedly they have created such a gulf between themselves and the world that the slightest glimmer of vulnerability creates the greatest hullabulloo. Always they are aiming, thinking faster, higher, stronger. Their ideas - Buchanan believes bowlers can push the speed gun further, that much more synergy can be developed between keepers and bowlers a la baseball - are matched with a physicality that is stretching the boundaries of cricket as we knew it.
To watch this team do their thing was to appreciate not just a performance but a culture. If the finale was bizarre and shambolic, it was also ultimately scary. If the Australians are going to keep this up there is no point lopping a week or ten days off the next World Cup. It may as well be scrapped altogether.
Rahul Bhattacharya is author of Pundits from Pakistan: On Tour with India, 2003-04