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In SPORTZWIKI’S next series, we take a look at the GREATEST KEEPERS OF THE DECADE. Today, we look at the career of possibly the greatest wicket-keeper batsman to ever play the game in modern era – Adam Gilchrist.
Cricketers like Adam Craig Gilchrist come around once in a century, maybe even a millennium. Undoubtedly and unanimously considered the greatest wicketkeeper-batsman of all time, Gilchrist was that precious gem to Australia that every other nation lacked and was one of the most vital components of the Australian side which went on to rule cricket for two decades. ‘Gilly’ was a matchwinner, as breathtaking a striker of the cricket ball as there ever has been. He imposed himself on the opposition with his fearless brand of strokeplay, fashioning shots and pulverising bowlers for fun. And he belonged to the rare breed of gentlemen who preferred to walk when they considered themselves to be out, sometimes contrary to the decision of the umpires. A true fighter on the cricket field who wouldn’t spare an inch and a class act off it, Adam Gilchrist will go down in the history books as perhaps the greatest behind the sticks, and arguably the most dreaded batsman on the planet.
I won’t dwell too much on his wicketkeeping skills because his agility behind the stumps was there for all too see, and let’s face it, if he wasn’t any good, he would never have made it to this level. Having to stand behind the wicket to fast bowlers like Brett Lee and Shaun Tait afterall takes some doing. And let’s not forget his handy glovework while standing up to the tricky Shane Warne or the chinaman bowler Brad Hogg who weren’t that easy to pick either. Only Clyde Walcott, the big-built West Indian, exceeds Gilchrist’s batting average, but Walcott chose to concentrate solely on his batting in his latter years, while Gilchrist has kept wicket with greater athleticism, and although he may lack the finesse of Ian Healy at times, his split-second reactions were praiseworthy. If his keeping was not of the purest, it was adept enough to handle the intricacies and mysteries of Shane Warne.
But what sets Adam Gilchrist apart is the plain, simple and unfussy way in which he went about things. The cricket ball is meant to be dispatched; and the bat is a powerful instrument with which to do so. Simple logic, but very few players in the history of the sport have been as swashbuckling and dominating in their approach. His batting was ruthless, riveting, captivating and so consummately had he defined the rules of engagement when leather meets willow that speaking of Adam Gilchrist in the same breath as his peers seems as irrelevant as comparing an abacus with a high-powered calculator. And he displayed all the early signs that he was a one-of-a-kind cricketer. In his first Test against Pakistan in 1999, Gilchrist notched up a bright 81 before following that up with a spectacular, unbeaten 149 to dig Australia out of a major hole. Australia were struggling at 5/126 in pursuit of 369 for victory as he joined his Western Australian team-mate, Justin Langer, but the pair put on a record-breaking partnership of 238 to snatch an improbable victory after Pakistan had all but stitched up the match.
But Gilchrist took a giant leap to become my favorite cricketer on a day he only managed to pile up 22 runs. In the semifinal of the 2003 World Cup against the gritty Sri Lankans, Gilchrist chose to walk even though the umpire had ruled him not out. Integrity and honesty are qualities which are rather rare in the current game, and this extraordinary gesture, incredibly coming from an Aussie, was a nice touch in a cynical world. Ricky Ponting was public in his criticism of Gilchrist, and there murmurs that this action didn’t go down to well with his teammates. But Gilchrist would stick to his stand, and has been known to walk on several occasions. And what was nice to see was that Gilchrist did not give in to the craving for success – and his honesty in the 22 yards suggested that cricket was more than just a sport for him, it was a way of life – a part of him. Although Ricky Ponting may have garnered all the plaudits for that terrific hundred in the final, but Adam Gilchrist’s assault on Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra to help Australia lodge a quickfire century opening stand can’t go unnoticed.
But in all honesty, the last thing Adam Gilchrist needs is a moral certificate to prove his merits. After all, the way in which he severely punished the Sri Lankan bowling attack in the 2007 World Cup final on his way to an impressive 149 of 104 balls, was enough indication that Adam Gilchrist was undoubtedly the best strokemaker of our generation – NOBODY, and i mean nobody, could bat with the same uninhibitedness and with as much conviction in strokeplay.
That he was an excellent keeper and a thorough gentleman made him too good to be true. The trouble is that every side craves a Gilchrist much like they want a Tendulkar or a Bradman. Unfortunately, there is only one.