Thursday, August 18, 2011

My Favourite Cricketer: Adam Gilchrist by Will Atkins

Balanced Sports and World Cricket Watch are proud to present the best cricket writers and bloggers today as part of a series remembering "My Favourite Cricketer".  Today's favourite is the greatest 'keeper-batsman of all time, Adam Gilchrist, by Will Atkins of The Short Midwicket.

Not many cricketers are remembered for completely redefining the sport in which they play. Tiger Woods. Michael Jordan. Lance Armstrong. And it would be no exaggeration toclaim that Adam Gilchrist redefined the role of the wicket-keeperbatsman. A batsman who could hit the ball an awful long way while retaining the utmost finesse whether in tests or ODIs, Gilchrist elevated the role of the wicket-keeper from one who simply needed to be able to catch the ball to a player who needed to be able to consistently perform match-winning heroics with the bat. Gilly was more than just a wicket-keeper; he was a game-turner, someone who could take a hopeless situation and salvage it, or compound the opposition’s misery as he finished them off with his lusty blows.

My love for Adam Gilchrist isn’t the most conventional story, as whilst he was making his state debuts for New South Wales in 1992, I was in England having only just been born, so unable to appreciate fully his unbeaten 20 to see NSW home in the Sheffield Shield final. However, as I began to understand and appreciate cricket, there was one player who stood out for me. It was the 2003 World Cup, and with England having set off home fairly meekly, I was able to watch as this Australian started smacking the ball everywhere, which appealed to me greatly. Making four fifties as the Aussies serenely marched to the defence of their trophy, Gilchrist was my hero, and the man who made me take up wicket-keeping. After many swings and misses, and even more dropped catches, I promptly gave up the gloves, but the seed was sown. Adam Gilchrist was the man for me.

Some of his innings were just breath-taking. He just naturally scored quickly without it appearing reckless, finding gaps in fields where there were none, always with expert timing and balance. Batting at number seven in tests, Gilchrist’s quick scoring was instrumental in Australia’s dominance over the cricketing world, as he was able to counter-attack to force pressure onto the other team just as well as he could put the foot to the throat and finish off any slim hopes from the opposition. Some of his best performances speak for themselves. An 84-ball hundred to kill off India at Mumbai in 2001. A double hundredat Johannesburg in 2002 from only 214 deliveries. The extraordinary 57-ball hundred (only one ball slower than the all-time test record) against a demoralised England at Perth in 2006. But it wasn’t just about his fast scoring – a nerveless 149 not out in only his second test to chase down 369 against Pakistan in 1999 is testament to the fact that he was an excellent batsman, not a slogger.

Gilchrist redefined the role of the ODI opener as well, with a strike rate of 97 runs per hundred balls almost guaranteeing that Australia would get off to a flyer. With 16 hundreds, but more tellingly his 55 fifties (to go alongside his 472 dismissals), Gilchrist is arguably the most successful ODI opener of all-time. Indeed, his innings on the biggest stage of them all, in the 2007 World Cup final, will go down as one of the great all-time ODI innings, with 149 off 104 balls single-handedly winning Australia their third consecutive World Cup. All of which he’d been instrumental in.

I admired Adam Gilchrist though, not just for his ability with the bat or gloves, but due to his behaviour on and off the pitch. How many other cricketers would walk when givennot out in a World Cup semi-final? Gilchrist walked then (after the umpire failed to see him inside edge a ball which was subsequently caught) just as he walked every time he nicked. Given the attitudes of some of his teammates in the harsh and ruthless Australian team he played in, Gilchrist’s attitude was so refreshing, and he was an outstanding role model for any aspiring cricketer.

They say people should never meet their heroes, but this advice was fully ignored by me last summer when I did work experience with Middlesex CCC. Gilchrist, by now retired from international cricket and freelancing for T20 teams around the world, had been recruited to play for the Panthers during the fateful T20 season of 2010, and part of my role was to help out with Gilchrist’s media day. He genuinely had time for everyone he spoke to, and was absolutely delighted to be playing for Middlesex. Way back in 1989, a very young Adam Gilchrist (here’s an ominously accurate interview with him from 1989) flew over from Australia to play for Richmond in the Middlesex League, and he said just how important that time was in the development of his career. Playing for Middlesex 21 years later as a fully formed legend of the game was his way of giving back. As is the fact that he sponsors a promising cricketer each year to go and play for Richmond for a summer in the hope that they too can have as successful a career as him. While Gilchrist was initially only signed up to play at Lord’s, he decided to play in one of the T20 outground games at Richmond, just to help give back even more to the small club. You’ve got to admit, that’s pretty cool.

The fact an Australian could ever be considered my favourite player just sums up how great a player, and a man, Adam Gilchrist is. A leader in everything he did on and off the pitch, Gilchrist sets the standard for pretty much everything possible – how a batsman should bat, how a wicket-keeper should keep and how a cricketer should behave. Adam Gilchrist simplified excellence, which is summed up in his thoughts on how to bat successfully; “Just hit the ball”. There won’t be another cricketer like Adam Gilchrist for an awfully long time – not many can have the respect of the cricketing world not just for their abilities, but for their sportsmanship and kind heart as well. That’s why my favourite cricketer is Adam Gilchrist, someone who led the way in every regard.

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1 comment:

  1. He hit the ball harder, more often than any cricketer I've seen.