Australia v Sri Lanka, World Cup final, Barbados

Gilchrist genius takes centre stage

Dileep Premachandran in Barbados

April 28, 2007

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Adam Gilchrist sweeps one of eight sixes in his amazing century © AFP

What can you say of a man that makes 149 in a World Cup final? That he illuminated a game that ended in darkness? That he's a once-in-a-lifetime player? That he made a difficult art appear ludicrously simple? That we shall never see his like again? Words alone could never do justice to the incandescence of Adam Gilchrist's strokeplay, or capture the spirit of a man who batted almost ethereally on a pitch where other gifted players had to work hard for runs.

Even if he'd gone for a first-ball duck, Gilchrist would still be one of the first names on the team-sheet when someone sits down to pick an all-time XI. There have been great batsmen, and great wicketkeepers, but few have coalesced the two skills together quite like the man who moved across the Nullarbor Plain to Western Australia because he wasn't getting a game for his native New South Wales.

At 35, Gilchrist's halcyon years are behind him. The figures suggest as much, with just 656 runs at 27.33 in 25 one-day games before today and 815 runs at 30.18 in his last 20 Tests. But with the instinct of an ageing prizefighter up in lights at Madison Square Garden for the last time, he summoned all his skill and experience to deliver the knockout blows in this World Cup final.

His ten previous outings in the Caribbean had fetched him just 304 runs, a figure swelled by half-centuries against the Netherlands and Bangladesh. Comparisons can perhaps be made to Sir Vivian Richards who had tallied only 79 runs in three innings at the 1979 edition before igniting like a Catherine-Wheel for 138 in the final.

But where the Richards innings was a more measured affair, with Collis King supplying the pyrotechnics, Gilchrist blazed away from the moment that he picked up a Chaminda Vaas delivery and lofted it over the man at square leg. There was one chance, a tough return catch to Dilhara Fernando when he had 31, but apart from that and the odd miscue that fell safely, it was a resplendent innings, one that made Matthew Hayden, the tournament's top run-scorer with 659 runs, seem like a jittery amateur.

"It was a brilliant innings," Mahela Jayawardene said afterwards. "Unfortunately, I was the opposition captain looking at it. He did the same to us in a VB Series final at Brisbane last year. Our guys stuck at it, but it was just brilliant hitting."

The century that Jayawardene referred to, on Valentine's Day in 2006, was Gilchrist's 14th for Australia. Since then, he had gone 33 matches without reaching three figures, and he acknowledged afterwards that he owed his team a special performance. "It's been a frustrating sort of tournament for me," he said. "I was part of some partnerships without really nailing down a big score.

Gilchrist briefly loses control on the way to 149 from 104 balls © AFP

"The standards that this group sets are so high and if you feel you're not meeting them, you tend to put pressure on yourself and even doubt yourself. I got the belief to rise above that from my team-mates and the coaching staff. It's amazing how much that can lift you."

On the field, the reprieve from Fernando was all the encouragement that he needed. Later in the same over, he swung one down to the square-leg fence, following up with a thunderbolt that nearly took Hayden with it to the boundary. But Fernando's punishment wasn't complete, and a free-flowing swing sent the next ball over mid-on and perilously close to a fire engine.

A monstrous hit into the 3Ws stand behind the sightscreen at the Joel Garner End was the harbinger of bad times for Sri Lanka, and though Fernando nearly cleaned him up with a clever slower ball, any bubbles of hope were quickly dispersed with some stunning shots. A flat six over mid-off kept the fielder on the boundary interested for the longest time, but there was no hint of good fortune in the encore, a gorgeous drive straight past the bowler. When he subsequently edged Fernando for four in his next over, the rueful smile from the bowler revealed what many inside the stadium already felt. The game was up.

"As far as I'm concerned, he hasn't played a better one," Ricky Ponting said. "He hardly missed the middle of the bat all day. Matty Hayden, who's probably been batsman of the tournament, was looking shaky and scratchy and pretty ordinary at the other end. The one difference between the teams today was Gilly's innings. To be able to go out and play like that in a final says a lot about the bloke."

It says something about the man too that he batted with a squash ball inside his left glove, advice from Bob Meuleman in Perth that he acknowledged with a special gesture immediately after completing a 72-ball century. And if such a bountiful cake needed any icing, it came in the shape of the tumbling catch that ensured Glenn McGrath, the greatest bowler of our age and a good mate, wouldn't go quietly into the Barbados night.

Long before the farce-tinged end, the Australian fans were celebrating by singing along to Land Down Under, the Men at Work classic. While Gilchrist was out there though, they weren't watching a man at work. They watched genius.

Dileep Premachandran is associate editor of Cricinfo

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Dileep Premachandran Associate editor Dileep Premachandran gave up the joys of studying thermodynamics and strength of materials with a view to following in the footsteps of his literary heroes. Instead, he wound up at the Free Press Journal in Mumbai, writing on sport and politics before Gentleman gave him a column called Replay. A move to followed, where he teamed up with Sambit Bal, and he arrived at ESPNCricinfo after having also worked for Cricket Talk and Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell were his early cricketing heroes, though attempts to emulate their silken touch had hideous results. He considers himself obscenely fortunate to have watched live the two greatest comebacks in sporting history - India against invincible Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001, and Liverpool's inc-RED-ible resurrection in the 2005 Champions' League final. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, who remains astonishingly tolerant of his sporting obsessions.
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Match home : Match home
Series/Tournaments: ICC World Cup
Tournament Results
Australia v Sri Lanka at Bridgetown - Apr 28, 2007
Australia won by 53 runs (D/L method)
Australia v South Africa at Gros Islet - Apr 25, 2007
Australia won by 7 wickets (with 111 balls remaining)
New Zealand v Sri Lanka at Kingston - Apr 24, 2007
Sri Lanka won by 81 runs
West Indies v England at Bridgetown - Apr 21, 2007
England won by 1 wicket (with 1 ball remaining)
Australia v New Zealand at St George's - Apr 20, 2007
Australia won by 215 runs
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