Gilly Retires as Test Grinds On

A hard-fought day of traditional Test cricket was over-shadowed by the late announcement that Adam Gilchrist is playing his last Test.

At stumps on day three of the final Test in Adelaide, Australia was 322 for three, with Michael Clarke unbeaten on 37, and captain Ricky Ponting on a patient 79 not out. A solid position to be certain, but still a long way adrift of India’s first innings of 526. Nevertheless, despite the game not being nearly as advanced as the Perth Test at the end of day three, Adelaide has a habit of producing late turns of fortune as the wicket wears. While a draw appears favourite at this stage, a result cannot yet be ruled out of the question for either side. But more of that anon.

It was somehow appropriate that one of the game’s greatest ever entertainers should announce his retirement on a day where only 260 runs were scored and purists were taken back to a different era. For Gilchrist, as much as any player has embodied the modern cricketer and the current era. Capable of tearing any attack apart, Gilchrist’s high grip on the bat and extended, languid swing of the blade was at once mesmerising yet simultaneously terrifying for opposition bowlers, fielders and captains. Richie Benaud says he has never seen a cleaner striker of a cricket ball – Monty Panesar may well agree. Peter Roebuck wrote a few years back that an argument could be made that he was the third greatest cricketer of all time, such has been his influence on the way the game has been played. In any event, we have not seen his like before.

Before Gilchrist, wicket keepers were ‘keepers first, and if they could bat so much the better. He changed all that, and it took him all of two test matches to do it. Who could forget Gilchrist’s assured debut 81 against Pakistan, at the home ground of his predecessor Ian Healy? An innings which took Gilchrist from Gabba villain at replacing a local legend, to Gabba hero in about two-and-a-half hours. Certainly no keen student of the game will ever forget his century in only his second test, where he and Justin Langer guided Australia to a most unlikely 369 for victory on a cool Hobart day in 1999. These were but two of innumerable memorable innings from the greatest keeper-batsman ever to play the game – a man whose contributions helped take a team which was already world’s best to a different level entirely. He was not perhaps the “pure” ‘keeper that Healy was, but his glovework was sound and his work to Warne was as tidy as could be expected from anyone. Indeed, so high have Gilchrist’s standards been that a few recent blemishes have seemed to stand out all the more. For all the attention to his batting, he has been a wonderful, wonderful wicket keeper for his country.

It is also true that Gilchrist’s manner of play sometimes meant he got out in seemingly embarrassing style or didn’t handle the moving ball as well as some others, but this was a large part of the Gilchrist charm. There can never have been a more selfless player at the crease. Not for Gilchrist the poring over statistics, individual records or even the slightest care for one’s average. Rather, to the end there has been a child-like naivety in his approach – just get out there and give the ball a good old whack. And herein lies the joyous conundrum of trying to analyse his mark on the sport. For in changing the game with his aggression and unbridled skill at number seven, Gilchrist also took us back to a more carefree time. A time when cricket was for the enjoyment, for the love of the exercise – and if you got out, well, you got out. It’s an old-world attitude befitting a pre-war English amateur, yet it’s refreshing in these modern, professional times. This is the enigma of Gilchrist – in taking cricket forward, he revived memories of its happier, simpler past. The game is richer for his having been here, and his place in its history is assured.

Turning now from self-indulgent whimsy to the more mundane, Australia resumed this morning at 62 without loss. Soon Phil Jaques and Matthew Hayden picked up where they had left off the previous evening. Both were reasonably assured, yet each made careful progress on a surface which was beginning to show the slightest signs of wear and tear. Jaques in particular showed a circumspection which was appropriate to both the situation in this match, and which might have come in handy at Perth. Hayden was by far the more aggressive, and his play against both pace and spin was first-rate. By drinks he had set like concrete, and rarely looked in the slightest trouble. How Australia missed him last week. How India must have wished he was still injured.

Despite some worthy toil by the bowlers during the first session, it was no real surprise to see the hosts reach lunch without loss. It was a vital session from Australia’s perspective, and the openers had done a great job against an attack missing the injured RP Singh.

Shortly after the break, Kumble induced the sort of stroke from Jaques which has spectators scratching their heads. Having managed to get the score to 159, and his own total to 60, Jaques played an ugly slog sweep to the Indian captain and was clean bowled. No doubt he returned to a quiet dressing room.

Enter the Australian captain with the sun shining, the pitch beginning to slow and the bowlers sensing a real chance given Ponting’s recent form. He was immediately met with Ishant Sharma who proceeded to bowl another fine spell. He has easily been the find of the tour for India, and he once again troubled the Aussie top-order, culminating in a superb reverse swinging ball which undid Hayden – bowled – for a superb 103. Hayden had been by far the most assured of the home batsman in this innings, and it took a wonderful piece of pacy swing from around the wicket to undo him.

Before long, Ponting and Mike Hussey also had to contend with Harbhajan Singh, who has had the wood on the home skipper for some time. The response of the batsmen was to grind out runs in the style of a 1980s test match. Rarely has this Australian team scored at a rate of less than three per over for an entire day, but such was the quality of the bowling and the steely determination of the batsmen that the day developed into a real arm wrestle. While Hussey was undone by the reverse swing of Irfan Pathan for only 22, Ponting kept on keeping on. Despite scoring nothing more than singles for one period of more than one and a half hours, the Australian captain did not give a chance in getting through to stumps on 79 from 150 balls. His was an innings of such jaw-clenching patience and determination, it would not surprise to hear that his teeth had ground away. Rarely has he worked so hard for his runs on such a renowned batsman’s paradise. Whilst not at his most fluent, Ponting’s innings reminded one and all that the top players, even when not in their pomp, usually find a way. He resumes tomorrow with Michael Clarke, who is 37 not out.

Each of the Indian bowlers got something from the wicket. The efforts of Sharma and Pathan, without RP Singh, were particularly noteworthy. Kumble extracted worrying bounce and tested all the batsmen, while Virender Sehwag also looked dangerous, especially in his first spell. Harbhajan had his moments, but generally appeared to be bowling a little flat – unusual given that his bounce and loop have so troubled Ponting over the years. The visitors will wonder what might have been had RP been fit. The reverse swinging ball would no doubt have suited him to a tee.

The weather being set fair, Australia will be looking for first innings parity at worst. With the new ball having only just been taken, Ponting and Clarke will look to enjoy the ball coming onto the bat before the surface slows down even more. Each will know that if India can take two early wickets, the visitors will be in the box seat to win this game.

Of course, should those wickets fall the crowd will get Gilchrist. Somehow it’s appropriate that he plays his last test at Adelaide Oval – a ground whose genteel surroundings remind us of a time when his selfless approach to the game was the rule, rather than the exception.

Summary – stumps, day three

India 526 all out
Tendulkar 153, Johnson 4/126

Australia 322 for three
Hayden 103, Sharma 1/47

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