The day the music died
The thing about Adam Gilchrist was that you noticed him. What is even more commendable is that you noticed him for the right reasons. Whether you loved him or hated him, you’d have to admit, Gilly played cricket like it should be played. And with his retirement, it is clear that cricket will no longer be as exciting.
In an era when wicketkeepers are valued more for their ability to throw their bats around, Australia’s Adam Gilchrist stood apart. Not only does he retire with a Test average of just under 48—something any specialist batsman would gladly take—he also happens to be (at the time of writing) the most successful wicketkeeper in Test history.
Wicketkeeping can often be a thankless role to perform; yet it is crucial to any side, especially to one that had such a strong bowling attack as Australia. Gilchrist had a critical role to play in the careers of two bowlers who were without doubt the best in their business—pacer Glenn McGrath and leg-spinner Shane Warne. Whether standing back to raging speedsters or sniffing the stumps when the likes of Warne plied their trade, Gilchrist was also arguably the best in his generation.
Stepping into Ian Healey’s giant shoes was a task to faze the best and the bravest, but Gilchrist did him proud. His solid presence behind the wicket was accompanied by a batting style that can only be described as exhilarating. Yet it would be mean to put him down as a slogger. And while he suffered loss of batting form many times in his career, one would be hard pressed to complain about the quality of his wicketkeeping.
Gilchrist was a sportsman in the true sense of the word. He was passed over for captaincy after the retirement of Stephen Waugh, doomed to remain a vice-captain forever. Cricket lovers will find it difficult to forget how he walked at a critical juncture after being given not out during a World Cup game. Nor will we forget the smile and the shrug of “It’s just a game,” that he often quoted after losing a match. He played as hard as any of the Australians do, but he seemed to remember that at the end of the day they were only entertainers.
Adam Gilchrist played in a team that I loved — a team that was once made up by the likes of the Stephen and Mark Waugh, and Glenn McGrath, among my most admired sportspeople. Hence, it is hard to find the words to bid Gilchrist farewell. Peter Roebuck, on the other hand, seemed to have had no such trouble. Writing on Cricinfo.com, he says:
The sight of [Gilchrist] lifting a boundary catch when quick runs were needed — and departing with something akin to a hop and skip — reminded spectators that cricket is just a game and ought not to be meanly played…
Yet to characterise Gilchrist as a cavalier is to underestimate his craftsmanship and his contribution. Guarding the stumps was his primary duty, a role he carried out with an athleticism and skill that spoke of substantial skill and unfailing stamina. It was no easy task to replace as superb a gloveman as Ian Healy… Gilchrist met the challenge with aplomb, not so much ignoring the hisses that greeted him as turning them into cheers by sheer weight of performance and freshness of character…
But it is in his secondary responsibility as a batsman that Gilchrist will be remembered longest and cherished most. Simply, he changed the role of the wicketkeeper, changed the way batting orders were constructed… [H]e became two cricketers, a dashing and dangerous batsman and a polished gloveman. Throughout his career Australia has been playing with 12 men.
Yet it is not the keeping or batting that defined him… Gilchrist played in his own time and by his own lights… Accordingly he was obliged to tread the fine line between serving the interests of the team and applying his personal code.
Every significant passing produces a hundred memories. Gilchrist’s also brings forth a hundred smiles… The amazing thing is not that he occasionally faltered. The amazing thing is that he so often succeeded.
For me, cricket as I love it has been dying a slow death. Not just because of the way the game has been hacked for commercial gain, players encouraged to think that they are bigger than the sport, or a media no longer interested in providing an objective coverage, but also because of the departure of those sportspeople who had once made it more than a game for me.
I love cricket, but I no longer make much of an effort to follow it. And, like I said when Glenn McGrath retired, now there will one less reason to.