Adam Gilchrist must be one of the most fearless cricketers of all time. It is all
very well swinging the bat seemingly without a care in the world at county or
state level, it is quite another to do so when a Test match or even a one-day
international hangs in the balance. But all games appeared to come the same to
Gilchrist. He played in a very strong Australia team, it is true, and one that was
often expected to win with something to spare, but Gilchrist played the same for
every team he represented, and in all situations.
If he had an advantage, it was in not starting his Test career until a relatively
late stage. He was a few days short of his 28th birthday when he finally got his
chance, having been kept waiting for his opportunity by Ian Healy, a fine keeper
and capable enough batsman to average 27 in Tests. Gilchrist had spent three
years in Australia’s one-day team and already made a considerable mark as a
destructive opening batsman with several hundreds to his name. He thus arrived
conscious that there might be few second chances but also experienced enough
to know his own game. In his first match he scored 81 off 88 balls and in his
second retrieved a dire situation in spectacular fashion. Australia, set 369 to win,
were apparently heading for defeat to Pakistan in Hobart when Gilchrist joined
Justin Langer at 126 for five. Cool as you like, the two of them all but took their
side home, Langer falling with five runs still needed. Gilchrist finished unbeaten
on 149.
Quite a few of Gilchrist’s best innings came when Australia were in
difficulties rather than when they already had a big score on the board by the
time he strolled out at number 7. He said he enjoyed it more when they were in
trouble because it gave him something to work with. Not that he could not drive
home good positions either; when he went in at Johannesburg in 2002 Australia
weren’t in particular difficulty at 293 for five and he proceeded to smash what
was then the fastest Test double century on record.

Australia owed their strength to many things but Gilchrist’s presence was
surely a crucial factor in their dominance around the turn of the century.
Australia won an astonishing 73 of the 96 Tests he played between 1999 and
2008 and lost only 11. One of those defeats came when Gilchrist himself, acting
as stand-in captain for the injured Steve Waugh, made a rather too adventurous
declaration at Headingley in 2001. Gilchrist actually finished on the winning
side in each of his first 15 Tests. He also played in three winning World Cup
finals in 1999, 2003 and 2007, and contributed runs on each occasion, most
dazzlingly at Barbados in 2007 when in a game reduced to 38 overs a side he
rattled up 149 off 104 deliveries. Some of his knocks were just unbelievable.
The record of this lean, slightly built left-hander was remarkable and leaves
him towering above all other international keeper-batsmen. In Tests he hit 17
hundreds and averaged 47.60, highly impressive figures when it is borne in mind
what a toll hours spent behind the stumps takes on mind and body. Most
remarkable though was his strike rate of 81.95, which places him second only to
Virender Sehwag. He was also the first batsman to hit 100 sixes in Tests. He hit
16 hundreds in one-dayers, in which his strike rate of 96.94 again puts him
second only to Sehwag among bona fide batsmen. In that format he stands tenth
on the six-hitting list with 149. Needless to say, Gilchrist was a big success when
he joined the first wave of players recruited to the Indian Premier League in
Among Test keepers whose careers are complete, only Andy Flower, who
averaged 53.70 but batted in far less explosive fashion, can approach his record.
Matt Prior, Les Ames and Kumar Sangakkara are among the few to even average
more than 40.
It has been the fate of every international keeper since to be measured against
him. Every team searches not just for a competent glove-man but a cricketer who
can also bat, and score regular hundreds. Gilchrist set the mark, and others strive
to meet it as best they can. In fact, several keepers have done very well without
quite adhering to the Gilchrist blueprint of reliable runs delivered with all-out
aggression – Prior for England, MS Dhoni for India and Brad Haddin for
Australia have all had their moments, while AB de Villiers maintained his
batting form amazingly well after temporarily taking over the gloves from Mark
Boucher in 2012. But the greats do it time and time again and that is what sets
Gilchrist apart.
Gilchrist played his early cricket in New South Wales but with the state
already having an established keeper he moved to Western Australia in his early
20s. There, like many batsmen brought up on the hard surfaces in Perth, he
developed into a strong cutter and puller of fast bowling. The one team against
whom his record was iffy was India, whose spinners Anil Kumble and
Harbhajan Singh managed to keep him largely, if not totally, in check. A few
fast bowlers, notably Andrew Flintoff bowling at his absolute best in the 2005
Ashes, managed to deny him the room to free his arms by coming round the
wicket at him and firing the ball into his body, but it was a plan requiring perfect
execution. In the next Ashes series, in Australia in 2006–07, Gilchrist exacted
brutal revenge, splattering the English bowling to all parts of Perth in what was
then the second fastest Test century of all time.
Gilchrist also developed into a considerable keeper. He had to keep to Shane
Warne a lot, so in common with a lot of keepers of the modern era, like Healy
and Alec Stewart, he improved himself enormously through necessity, exposure
and hard work. Again, he had the advantage of working for the most part with
one of the most formidable bowling attacks in history, but in the main his
standards were very high. When he retired, he had a record 416 Test dismissals
to his name, a pretty impressive haul in only 96 matches. ‘Gilly’ also played the
game in a good spirit and earned a reputation, very unusual in the modern game,
of being a ‘walker’.

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