It’s not often that we at Outside The Line have kind words to say about an Australian player.
It's nothing personal, really. They might all be very nice people in real life. Brad
Hogg may well care for third-world slum urchins in his spare time, and Ricky
Ponting could conceivably be a thoroughly cool, informed, funny person -- who
reads, and thinks, and likes good music, and watches The Wire, and can sprinkle
pithy Omar quotes into conversation -- and yet, in our eyes, he will never stop
looking like an annoying cockhead who needs to either get out next ball or else
get hit square in the nose by an errant slog shot.
Which is what makes our utter lack of antipathy towards Adam Gilchrist, who announced his retirement last week, somewhat surprising. I mean, if anyone in that squad has come to represent Australia’s brutal dominance throughout this decade, it’s Gilly. During his 9-year, 96-Test tenure, Australia only lost 11 times. Right after his debut, Australia went on an 15-game winning streak. Right before his retirement, Australia had completed a 16-game winning streak.
Gilchrist is not only the symbol of Australia’s über-dominance, but its very embodiment -- he is tall, strong, fit, disciplined, tough-minded, well-coached,
etc. He preys on weakness and feasts on indecision, reducing many worthy contests
to muscle-flexing sessions at the crease. And he comes at you, again and again,
like a lab-made prototype from Soviet days, time after time after time.
But if that’s all there was to him, as a player and a character, we could just dub him “Matthew Hayden 2.0” and move right along. But it’s not. Combined with the sleek robotic jockness of the modern Aussie athlete there was always a certain geeky exuberance to Gilly's game -- a bright-eyed sense of wonder and excitement simply about being out there, in front of the cameras and the lights, competing with the best. It’s hard to imagine Gilchrist anywhere but on a cricket field… I bet he even makes love with his pads on.
That exuberance never left him, allowing his batting to always remain youthful and instinctive. He never seemed to "mature" as a batsman, or slow down with age. He understood the value of his approach, and the psychological effect his presence produced, not only on his opponents, but on his own teammates. I could never prove this, of course, but I bet that Gilchrist coming in to bat at no.7 increased Damien Martyn's average by at least 5 runs. Every middle-order batsman in the Australian lineup batted more freely, and with a clearer mind, because they knew Gilly had their back. He was like a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card, and the Australians were never afraid to use it.
I doubt we'll see his kind again. I doubt we'll ever see a face as intense or a look as fierce as the one presented when he was at the crease; you'd think he was chewing on barb wire as he stood to face every delivery. Nor will we see someone hit the ball as hard while holding the bat so precariously near the top on the handle as Gilchrist did. (How the bat never went flying from his hands after a wild swing is a question worthy of a paranormalist by this point.) I'm glad we'll never see that again -- but at the same time, and as much as it pains me to say it, I'm kind of glad we got to see it in the first place.