For a fast bowler, the ideal performance he would like to be remembered for is perhaps a match-winning swan-song with the ball that includes a fiery spell and a lot of wickets. But it was not so for Jason Gillespie.
The tall, lanky Australian bowler who once partnered the legendary Glenn McGrath and is Australia’s seventh highest wicket-taker signed off his stellar career with a remarkable contribution with the bat instead.
The likes of Ian Chappell, Michael Atherton and Mark Waugh, despite their illustrious careers, cannot boast of a double hundred. Yet Gillespie did it back in April 2006 in the second Test against Bangladesh in the series.
Having been sent out as a night-watchman to see off the end of the day’s play, Gillespie scripted a marathon innings that left everyone including himself bamboozled.
A fairy-tale innings
After Bangladesh had been bowled out for 197, Gillespie came in to bat at the fall of the first wicket with 22 minutes of play left on the first day. This was a pitch which was assisting the bowlers and Gillespie himself had picked up three wickets earlier in the day.
"I’d done my job with the ball, got the wickets, put my feet up and then the number-one batsman in the world at the time (Ponting) came up and asked me to do his job as well," Gillespie recounted to Cricket.com.au.
"I just remind them it was one of those rare wickets that seamed and spun, the cloud cover was really low so the atmosphere lent itself to a lot of swing as my bowling figures showed.
"So it was unbelievably tough conditions, but someone had to step up and do the captain’s job by batting number three."
But with men around the bat and spinners bowling, Gillespie as a night-watchman was the best option for Australia because he had a tall stride forward and could block everything exceedingly well.
And block he did. He was a picture of stability, with a low backlift, and rock solid in defence. If the ball was tossed up, he put a big stride forward and plonked it down. Otherwise he got back in line and defended brilliantly.
Having seen his team through to the end of day’s play, he continued doing the same thing in the morning. In between, he unleashed his shots whenever the tired bowlers let out a bad delivery.
His drives through cover and square of the wicket were immaculate but he did not get carried away. He was ready to stand and grind, only to pounce on the bad deliveries.
In the middle of that, he managed to run out Ricky Ponting and therefore to resolved to elongate his stay in the middle of the crease to avoid facing an angry skipper in the dressing room.
"I didn’t want to go back into that dressing room and cop a spray from the captain – a deserved spray too because I was too wrapped up in my own defensive technique to be thinking about taking that run," he said.
And so he continued in his own merry way, stringing together a brilliant partnership with Mike Hussey. He steadily marched on, not showing the slightest of nerves even when he approached his maiden century.
"I thought at the time ‘I’ve had a pretty clear plan on how I’m going to approach this knock and I’ve got to 90’ so from that point they were just numbers – in order to get from 90 to 100 I would just continue to stick to my process and the scoreboard would look after itself,” he said.
There was however a moment of scare after reaching his century as he got almost bowled by Mashrafe Mortaza for which he received a mouthful from Hussey who sternly reminded him that he would not get another chance to score a double hundred.
"I stood there listening to him saying ‘yeah, yeah, I hear you’ but then I turned to head back up the pitch and I was thinking ‘piss off Huss, I’ve done this once so I can certainly do it again'," Gillespie recalled.
"But by the time I’d left Huss and thought about it a bit, and got back to my crease I realised he was 100 per cent right – there was no chance in hell I was going to be in that position again, so I’d better pull my head in."
But things eased out after his century as Bangladesh had by then gone on the defensive and the field was well spread out. Gillespie went on playing his workman-like innings, manoeuvring the ball into gaps.
"I’ve never been in that situation before so I thought 'I’ll stick to my game plan and keep going'.
"And it was a simple plan. If it was on the stumps I had to make sure my front pad was out of the way and back myself to hit the ball because if I was hit on the pads on that (low, slow) surface there was a good chance I’d be adjudged lbw.
"Then, if it was on my hips or leg side of me, I could work it through the on-side, if it was on the stumps I’d look to play nice and straight and hit the ball back to where it came from, and if it was outside off stump I’d look to be really positive. It sounds ridiculous but that’s as simple as I kept my batting.”
A glance off his legs at last brought up his double hundred and the entire dressing room broke into euphoric celebration.
A great swansong
Gillespie’s 201 came off 425 balls in an innings that last over nine hours. It also became the highest score by a night-watchman beating the previous record of 105 held by Tony Mann against India.
Gillespie strung together a partnership of 320 runs taking the innings total to 581 for 4. Bangladesh despite a brief resistance crumpled in their second innings giving the Australians a 2-0 series win.
“This is ridiculous,” Gillespie told the Sydney Morning Herald after the game. “I was just lucky that the shots came off and I had a bit of a laugh all the way. It’s unbelievable. It’s a fairytale really. Hansel and Gretel, and Dizzy’s double hundred, it’s one and the same. Absolute fairytale.”
Hussey said, "He knew every Test player and former Test player's highest score and was ticking them off. Went past Mark Waugh , he told me that. Went past Michael Clarke , he told me that. Went past Steve Waugh ."
However the Australian players and Gillespie himself had a foreboding that Gillespie might have played his last Test and allowed him to lead the celebrations in the dressing room.
Andrew Hilditch who was the Australian chairman of selectors called Gillespie soon after that to inform him that he was excluded from the squad for the upcoming Ashes.
Gillespie knew it was coming and so he was not surprised. He never played for Australia again and his double century came in what became his last match for his country. But he was angry with the decision to exclude him.
"So I look back and realise that if I was chairman of selectors for Australia at that time I would have made the exact same call,” he said.Published 21 Aug 2017, 10:45 IST