Leading into the 1999/200 home summer, Australian cricket was on a high after their remarkable triumph in the 1999 one-day World Cup. However, this victory overshadowed the fact that - considering the remarkable array of talented players they had - they had been underachieving as a Test side for the previous 18-24 months.
In early 1998 a win in the final 'dead rubber' Test on their tour of India only slightly masked what had been a very disappointing 2-1 series defeat, with the low point being the 2nd Test which was one of their biggest losses ever by an innings and plenty.
While they bounced back with a fine away Test series win against Pakistan in late 1998, their home Ashes 1998/99 series highlighted some of the problems they were having. While they won 3-1 (and had the Ashes secure with two Tests to play), on paper they were a far more talented lineup than their opponents and they struggled more than they should at times during the series, especially in their failure to chase down a modest target in the 4th Melbourne Test. That going into the final day of the final Test in Sydney that England had a genuine chance to square the series suggested Australia were underperforming.
This was demonstrated by their tour of the West Indies in early 1999. Against a West Indian side in decline, lacking unity and being totally propped up by 2-3 great players, when Australia humiliated their opponents (bowling them out for 51) in the first of the four-Test series, a whitewash should've occurred. But in a remarkable turnaround Australia had to show some grit in the final Test to win it and scramble a 2-2 result.
While they had encountered some truly great batting from Brian Lara and great bowling from Walsh and Ambrose, this was a series Australia should've won and the series highlighted problems with their team. Namely great stalwarts falling away rapidly (Ian Healy), highly-touted newish members of the side underperforming (Matthew Elliott) and most significantly, a new captain in Steve Waugh not at ease with the demands of the job.
Australia's one-day World Cup fully cemented Waugh in the role but issues with the Test side remained as a tour in late 1999 to Sri Lanka saw them lose 1-0 in a rain-affected series. They followed this with an away win in a one-off Test against Zimbabwe but much bigger challenges awaited.
This takes us to the 1999/00 home summer and a 3-match Test series against Pakistan. On paper, the Pakistan squad looked arguably the strongest ever they'd taken on a tour to Australia, as exemplified by a squad of bowlers that included iconic names like Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar, Waqar Younis, Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed.
Australia was going through challenges of its own, mainly centred around wicketkeeper Ian Healy, an essential member of Australian Test sides since the late 1980s. His batting had fallen away alarmingly to such an extent in 1999 that Adam Gilchrist replacing him had become inevitable. However things were complicated when Healy's request for a farewell Test at his home ground of the Gabba was rejected by the selectors, meaning that Gilchrist would make his Test debut in front of an initially hostile home crowd (as had occurred when he'd replaced Healy in the one-day lineup).
Australia began their three-Test series against Pakistan at the Gabba with a 10-wicket win just after lunch on the final day. But the dominant margin of victory doesn't do justice to what was a highly entertaining match, with many great performances and changes in momentum.
Put into bat, for most of the day Pakistan were well on top. Helped by the rare sight of Glenn McGrath being out of sorts, Pakistan raced to 3/265 not long before stumps. But the 2nd new ball changed the fortune of the innings with Inzamam-Ul-Haq (88) and Mohamnmad Yousuf - then known as Yousuf Youhanna - (95) dismissed just before stumps. Their innings never recovered as they posted a solid but wasteful 367 before lunch on Day 2.
Australia's Day 2 got even better with their newish opening pair of Greg Blewett and Michael Slater batting through the final two sessions of the day, an amazing feat against such a top-class bowling attack. They were assisted by typically shoddy Pakistani catching, with Slater reaching his century through a sitter dropped in the slips cordon enabling him to gleefully run through for a single.
After finally breaking the opening partnership at 269, Pakistan fought back to have Australia 5/342. But a century from Mark Waugh (100) at his most stylish and some brutal hitting from Shane Warne (86) saw Australia reach a massive 575.
But perhaps even more significant than any of the other individual innings in the broader context of the series was that of Adam Gilchrist on debut. Coming in a hostile atmosphere after the controversial end of Healy's career, Gilchrist played as if he was a seasoned veteran (doubtless helped by his substantial one-day international experience). He reached 81 at almost a run-a-ball and only a superb yorker from Shoaib Akhtar prevented him from a century on debut.
Facing a 208 run deficit, Pakistan looked to be slumping to an innings defeat when they were reduced to 3/37 early on the 4th day. But an impressive counter-attacking partnership between Saeed Anwar and Mohammad Yousuf saw Pakistan overcome the deficit with no further wickets lost. Despite losing Yousuf (75) just before the weather ended the day early, Pakistan looked a good thing to save the match going into the final day, 19 runs in front with 6 wickets still in hand.
But on the final day (beginning at the very early time of 9:30am due to making up lost time) began on the most stunning of notes when Shane Warne bowled a high full toss that Pakistan all-rounder Abdul Razzaq prodded away, only for it to be brilliantly taken by Ricky Ponting close in. Australia had all the momentum from that point on and after dismissing Pakistan for 281, chased down the target of 74 without loss within 15 overs.
It had been a comprehensive win by Australia but there was enough in Pakistan's performance to suggest the series was far from over. In the post-match interviews captain Wasim Akram expressed confidence that as they now had more cricket under their belt, they would get better as the series went on.
The signs of this progression were there as they thrashed South Australia in a tour match by an innings and 26 runs. However, in the 2nd Test at Hobart they were put in on a seamer-friendly wicket and due to some good bowling, excellent catching and loose batting, were dismissed for a disappointing 222 well before the close of day 1.
When Australia raced to 1/191 midway through Day 2, Pakistan looked listless. But due to some brilliant swing bowling from Waqar Younis and dazzling off-spin from Saqlain Mushtaq (totally befuddling the Australian bats with his delivery that went the other way), they destroyed the middle and lower order to have Australia bowled out for just 246, and a lead of only 24.
In response, Pakistan put in their most disciplined batting effort of the series, reaching 392 and setting an enormously challenging target of 369 for victory. They were led by Inzamam's first ever century against Australia and fine, aggressive half-centuries from Saeed Anwar and the previously out-of-form Ijaz Ahmed.
Pakistan's fine level of performance continued with their bowling as they had Australia struggling at 5/126, still 243 runs short of victory. Surely it was inevitable that Pakistan would level the series and a classic final Test would ensure. Surely.
But this is where the factor and impact of Adam Gilchrist came in. He came in with Australia in a hopeless position, tied down against a top-class attack barely scoring above 2 runs an over. Despite being in only his 2nd Test, Gilchrist immediately batted with complete confidence and freedom. First, he used the sweep shot with great effectiveness against Saqlain Mushtaq - whom the Australians had been clueless against for much of the match - on the 4th evening.
Then on the final day he was masterful against Pakistan's pace attack, repeatedly hitting them for boundaries through gloriously timed drives either straight down the ground or through cover. And if they pitched short, Gilchrist was more than able to pull and hook them to the fence. Along with Justin Langer, Gilchrist turned what had seemed a hopeless cause into one of Australia's greatest ever Test wins by 4 wickets midway through the final day.
Of course Langer's contribution shouldn't be understated in what was a career-defining knock for him. But it was the impact of Gilchrist and the way he batted that was going to have long-reaching impact for the Australian side. Before he joined the Test lineup, Australia had widely been considered the best Test side since the mid-1990s (although they had been patchy in the 1998-99). With the addition of Gilchrist, Australia had gone from being the best Test side to one of the all-time great Test lineups.
Gilchrist was probably not only the most dangerous no. 7 Test batsman ever, but his presence gave the side an extra level of intimidation and confidence. The top 6 batsman (already highly skilled and proficient) gained even more self-belief knowing that they could be even more attacking because on the rare days when they failed as a group, they had such an outstanding backup in Gilchrist who so often got them out of trouble. As well, this proved enormously intimidating to opposing lineups having to deal with the fact that after managing to get rid of so many quality bats in the top 6, they still had to contend with the most dangerous batsman of the lot at 7.
Being a wicket-keeper meant that as a virtual all-rounder, Gilchrist significantly deepened Australia's depth and ability to win. What was already a top-class side that won most of its series became one that could win 16 Tests on end and whitewashing opponents in series became a natural course of events.
After the triumph, quality and significance of the Hobart Test, the final Test in Perth could only but be a letdown. Pakistan were predictably deflated and were defeated easily by an innings within 3 days. But the Australian home crowd was treated to a ruthless display of cricket which was to become a constant in the coming decade. The highpoint for Australia in the match was a record-breaking 327 run partnership between the reborn Langer and Ricky Ponting, who'd had three consecutive ducks coming into this match. His innings of 197 was a demonstration of the batting talent he'd had since he was a young teenager, although it would take a couple of years before he'd regularly make full use of his abundant abilities.
The series ended 3-0 to Australia, which must've been bitterly disappointing for Pakistan considering the talent they had in their side. The series seemed to be a turning point for them as after being an erratic but brilliant side for most of the 1990s, they slid into outright mediocrity for several years after this. The likes of Saqlain Mushtaq would have their careers fade away much earlier than they shouldve and the likes of Mohammad Wasim not fulfil their promise. Overall, this tour was symbolic of wasted opportunities for them.
As for Australia, this series was pivotal in creating a culture of excellence and ruthlessness in their side, with Gilchrist being the pivotal factor. For the majority of the 2000s, Australia would reach levels of success that even their great sides of the 1990s would have thought unobtainable.