Adam Gilchrist, the dasher-entertainer who pioneered the wicket-keeper batsman concept
For ages in the game of cricket, wicket keepers were meant to keep wickets and make some handy contributions lower down the batting order. Over two decades, the game witnessed some of the finest keepers who were brilliant behind the stumps with their razor sharp glovesmanship. The likes of Allan Knot, Jeffrey Dujon, Ian Healy and Syed Kirmani were equipped with the perfect technique, great anticipation and sharp reflexes to effect jaw dropping dismissals behind the stumps.
A select few like Moin Khan, Romesh Kaluwitharana, Ridley Jacobs and Adam Parore were capable ODI batsmen who could score quick-fire runs for their respective sides. However a rare combination of a genuine batsman and a quality keeper was certainly lacking in both forms of the game.
Australia have been blessed to have some of the finest wicket keepers right from Don Tallon to Rodney Marsh to Ian Healy. In the 90s, Healy was regarded as the finest wicket keepers of his generation. 'Heals' was near to flawless whilst keeping wickets to a formidable pace attack of Craig McDermott, Merv Hughes, Glen McGrath and the spin wizard Shane Warne.
After serving Aussies for almost a decade, a suitable replacement for Ian Healy was the major talking point among cricket pundits and fans Down Under. Many thought that it would be difficult for someone to match up to the caliber of Ian Healy. In came a belligerent stroke maker from Western Australia with a proven reputation to hit the ball hard and be very safe behind the stumps. In all honesty, his built wasn’t of a typical wicket keeper as he was rather tall than his illustrious predecessors.
No further introduction required, the amazing cricketer was none other than Adam Gilchrist who is widely regarded as the greatest ever wicket keeper batsman. With Mark Taylor bidding adieu to ODIs, ‘Gilly’ got the ideal opportunity to open with Mark Waugh, perhaps one of the most stylish Aussie openers of the 90s. Adam started off as a dasher who belted the best of bowlers with utter disdain and scored some quick fire cameos. Australia had certainly found the perfect foe to the more elegant and classy Mark Waugh.
In 2000s, when Australia witnessed its golden run, Gilchrist formed the most lethal opening pair in ODIs with the swashbuckling Matthew Hayden and the duo were ranked as one of the most fearful opening duos.
Despite his unassumingly tall frame, Gilchrist was acrobatic behind the stumps and lapped up some sensational catches off the bowling of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee, Shane Warne, Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Bracken.
With Australia boasting of a power-packed batting lineup in Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Martyn, Waugh and Hussey in Tests, Gilchrist batted at No. 7 and scored some whirlwind fifties to change the course of a many a matches in merely a session.
There were some absolute blinders in the 17 Test tons he scored at almost a-run-a-ball pace in red ball cricket. He gave an exhibition of his brutal hitting prowess with a whirlwind 57-ball ton against arch rivals England at Perth and a scintillating double ton against South Africa at Johannesburg. His destructive ability with the willow is highlighted by the fact that he was the first man to smash 100 sixes in Test cricket. A career strike rate of over 80 certainly put him a notch above everyone.
Gilchrist contributed handsomely with the willow in all the three ICC World Cup Tinals, which Australia won from 1999 to 2007. His finest hour under the sun came in the 2007 ICC World Cup final against Sri Lanka in the Caribbean when he plundered the Lankan bowlers to score a whirlwind 149-run unbeaten knock, helping Australia to its World Cup treble.
Courtesy his hammer and tongs batting approach, Gilchrist got branded as perhaps the most dangerous ODI batsman of his era alongside Sanath Jayasuriya, Virender Sehwag, Chris Gayle and Brendon McCullum. He was in a pitched battle with New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum and South Africa’s Mark Boucher as the most destructive wicket-keeper batsman of his generation.
Gilchrist had certainly revolutionized the wicket keeper’s role and pioneered the concept of what we today term as the 'wicket-keeper batsman'. They certainly were wicket-keepers like Kumara Sangakarra, Andy Flower and Alec Stewart who are prolific run-getters but there was no greater match-winner than the explosive Adam Gilchrist. Such was his impact that he served as a role model to other wicket-keepers who went on to reach lofty heights in their careers.
India’s ace wicket-keeper batsman MS Dhoni drew a lot of inspiration from the Aussie great and modeled his attacking game on Gilchrist’s style with the willow.
Some of the finest wicket-keeper batsmen in the world at present like Quinton de Kock, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Mohammad Shahzad and Sarfaraz Ahmed have all inculcated traits from Gilchrist’s aggressive style of batting.
A team man to the core, ‘Gilli’ was widely admired by his colleagues and commanded the respect of his opposition. A hard core competitor on the field, he would be the first one to go across to the dressing room and shake hands with the opponents. A sportsman infused with a high degree of integrity, Gilchrist was known to walk if he edged the ball, much to the dislike of his Australian team mates. He honored the sporting code to the hilt and enhanced his credentials as one of the gentlemen of the game.
Adam Gilchrist was tailor-made for the T20 format and took to the fast paced format like a duck takes to water. With his instinctive captaincy and belligerent batting, ‘Gilly’ spearheaded Deccan Chargers to the IPL crown in their second season.
Many cricketers have reached lofty heights in their stellar international careers, scoring a plethora of runs and picking up heaps of wickets, but only a select few of them have brought about a path-breaking transformation in how the game is played for the better.
Adam Gilchrist was one such cricketing stalwart who shall surely go down as one of the greatest ambassadors of the game with his legacy standing tall till eternity.