second Test, Hobart, 1999
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Twenty years ago this month, no one thought Australia would win when they were staring down a huge target with five wickets in hand and a rookie keeper-batsman at the crease. A look back at the game that announced Adam Gilchrist to the world
Australia v Pakistan
second Test, Hobart, 1999
second Test, Hobart, 1999
In November of 1999, Langer could have been talking about a myriad of unknowable things. Was the world's software going to be adequately patched to prevent Y2K chaos as the year ticked over from 1999 to 2000 in a month or so? Was the movie Fight Club a male-centric celebration of the embrace of testosterone and its associated macho violence or a sly satirical critique of the same? Would nerds ever tire of explaining when the millennium actually ended? And countless others.
In fact, the lack of knowledge to which Langer was referring was the outcome of the Test in which they currently found themselves.
It was a bold claim of ignorance from Langer, because almost everybody else with even a passing knowledge of Test cricket would have claimed they did know how the match would unfold. Australia were 5/126 in their second innings chasing 369 for victory.
Pakistan had fought back strongly to put themselves in such a powerful position. After making 222 in the first innings they'd watched helplessly as Australia had raced to 1/191 in reply. But this was one of Pakistan's strongest ever bowling attacks. Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis would take just over and just under 400 Test wickets respectively. Shoaib Akhtar was the fastest bowler in the world. Spinner Saqlain Mushtaq had invented the doosra.
Not that he needed the doosra to begin Pakistan's comeback. A full toss to Michael Slater sufficed, as the Australian opener top-edged a simple catch to Ijaz Ahmed. After Waqar accounted for both Mark Waugh and Ricky Ponting, Saqlain raced through the rest of the batting line-up as Australia lost 9/55 to be all out for 246.
Pakistan continued their momentum with the bat. Inzamam-ul-Haq was the rock of the second innings, compiling 118 as the visitors reached 392 all out. Australia needed 369 runs to win. If they achieved the target, it would become the largest successful fourth innings run-chase ever made in Australia.
There was time to make the runs, with the better part of two days still to play. But in short order there weren't sufficient wickets.
Or were there? You never knew.
The Pakistan attack knocked over five of Australia's top six batsmen with still 243 runs needed to win. Langer's advice to Gilchrist was simple. 'If you just hang in there, you never know what could happen,' he said. 'Let's see if we can stick it out 'til stumps, it might rain tomorrow.'
It didn't rain the next day. A good thing, too. Because Gilchrist, playing in the second Test of his career, had his own version of 'sticking around until stumps'.
In the 15 overs from when he arrived at the crease to when stumps were drawn on the fourth day, Gilchrist larruped his way to 45*. Langer followed the more traditional approach of 'sticking around until stumps', adding 17 runs in the same amount of time.
The pair had added 62 for the sixth wicket already. They needed 181 more, and there wasn't much batting to come after them. Shane Warne and Damien Fleming were theoretically handy but they'd also both been dismissed for ducks in the first innings, facing only five balls between them.
And while Joe the Cameraman was offering controversial opinions about whether Scott Muller could bowl or throw, there was no controversy about whether he could bat. He could not, as evidenced by Glenn McGrath batting above him, at No. 10.
No, Gilchrist and Langer needed to get most of the remaining 181 runs themselves. On the final day of a Test match. Against a deadly Pakistan bowling quartet featuring Mushtaq's variations, Akhtar's pace, Waqar's swing and Wasim's combination of all three.
The entire prospect was ridiculous, despite what Justin Langer claimed not to know.
Then again, the first rule of ridiculous run-chase club is you do not talk about ridiculous run-chase club.
So the pair didn't. The next day they focused instead on smaller, less ridiculous goals. Langer would count down the day in ten-minute blocks, making Gilchrist promise to still be with him 10 minutes into the future. Langer would count down the runs in 10-run increments, demanding Gilchrist reciprocate the promise and still be there when the target was 10 runs smaller.
Umpire Peter Parker was not part of the discussions, but he still managed to leave his mark on the chase. On 76, Langer went to cover drive Wasim and managed only to get an outside edge to the keeper. At the time, he claimed it was a 'clicky bat handle', but later would admit he 'smashed it'.
Parker, however, believed the clicky bat handle version of the story and, despite the obvious disbelief of the Pakistan players, gave Langer not out. Langer didn't walk. He'd been given out in the first innings bat pad to a ball he was adamant he didn't hit. In his mind, this was karma rebalancing itself.
The frustration of Pakistan morphed into sloppy bowling and Gilchrist and Langer continued whittling down their 10-run increments at increasing pace. Gilchrist raced past Langer, reaching his century just before lunch. Langer's came shortly after.
He was eventually dismissed for 127, with the runs required down to five. One can only assume that the absence of a 10-run increment had thrown his mind into confusion.
It didn't matter. The job had been done. Not even Warne's premature celebrations as Gilchrist hit the winning runs could stop the victory.
The nature of the win gave Australia immense self-belief. Ian Healy had been a fine contributor to the side for many years but Gilchrist offered something else. With him in the side, they could win a Test from anywhere. And, for the next 13 Test matches, they would.
It would take something astonishing from VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid to disprove the hypothesis.
Excerpted with permission from The 50 Greatest Matches in Australian Cricket by Dan Liebke, published by Affirm Press