Australia were the best side in the world before Adam Gilchrist was promoted to the Test side. Afterwards, they took on an air of invincibility.
How can a side take the fifth Australian wicket and be faced with a batsman who middles the ball with his first stroke, throws the kitchen sink at everything and averages 50? It was totally unfair and lifted Australia into a hitherto unimagined plane. Gilchrist was a great wicketkeeper, but it was quite frankly freakish that he could bat the way he did on top of that.
Of batsmen who’ve hit more than 1,000 Test runs, only you-know-who has a higher strike-rate per 100 balls than Adam Gilchrist’s 81.95 and essentially that means that nobody in their right mind has ever scored faster.
But consistently as well. The bowlers are tired. It’s been a slog. They do not want to see Adam Gilchrist gripping the very end of his bat handle with narrow-eyed, sadistic intent.
Essentially Adam Gilchrist innings came in two forms. There was the turn-it-around-in-an-hour rearguard on the rare occasions when things weren’t going totally Australia’s way, but more fearsome than that was the remove-any-hint-of-doubt, pile-on-the-misery, kick-’em-when-they’re-down, rapidfire hundred that made tired bowlers exhausted and exhausted bowlers suicidal.
The former would be exemplified by the Christchurch Test of 2005. Australia were 160-5 in their first innings after New Zealand had made 433. Gilchrist scorched his way to 121 off 126 balls, Australia got within a single run of New Zealand’s score and the frazzled Kiwis were bowled out for 131 in their second innings. It was a hundred measured in wickets as well as runs.
The second kind first came to our attention during his first innings against England – the first Test of the 2001 Ashes. England were bowled out for 294 and Australia sauntered to 336-5. It was bad, but the match and series suddenly became a lot longer and more miserable at that point, because Gilchrist did his thing.
152 off 143 balls did more than just drive home Australia’s advantage. It totally dispirited a nation. The English were already prone to elevating the Australians to the status of demigods at this time, but now they had to find a higher pedestal. How could their number seven batsman do this to England’s finest?
‘Psychological hold’ is such a limp, hackneyed expression, but when a sportsman thinks even his best isn’t good enough then his performance drops further. But that’s the nature of competition: if you can impose yourself on your opponent to such an extent that their standards drop, then that’s worth even more than your own, personal contribution.
That’s what Adam Gilchrist did so well. His contribution goes beyond the statistics. And consider this: his statistics are phenomenal. 5,570 runs, 17 hundreds and an average of 47.6, as well as 379 catches and 37 stumpings.
Those statistics have deteriorated as well. Since the start of the 2005 Ashes, Gilchrist has averaged just 30.21. Prior to that he’d been averaging 55.65.
55.65! He’s a sodding wicketkeeper and he bats at seven! We’re all used to it now, but that really is outrageous.
Of course even that period of relative mediocrity contained the odd gem, like the second-fastest Test hundred of all time – the archetypal Gilchrist innings. Monty Panesar had been finding Test cricket rather easy up until then. That rather comprehensively put him straight and no mistake.
We haven’t even mentioned one-day cricket, where he won the World Cup with the grandest big occasion hundred imaginable and somehow convinced the selectors of the world that wicketkeepers had to open the batting without their even questioning why this might be the right thing to do or not.
It’s a big loss for everyone.