Adam Gilchrist celebrates the win

Charming, clean-cut, accomplished: you couldn't help but look down on him a little

© Getty Images
37

Hate to Love

Awfully good

Adam Gilchrist was one of those rare Aussie sportsmen who gave you no reason to hate him. Now how infuriating was that?

Emma John |

When I was 12, my family started going to church. We'd never been a religious family, and I'm still not sure exactly what prompted it, but it quickly became a part of our weekly routine. It took a little longer, however, for the Christian message of peace and love towards all men to penetrate our lives. Jesus might be a miracle worker, but even he had his work cut out with my mum and me.

It's not that we were misanthropes, but we did have one intractable piece of blind prejudice: we hated Australian sportsmen. I grew up believing that while it wasn't nice to say nasty things about your fellow men - and discriminating against anyone because of their background was definitely not okay - there was an exception for those from down under who were paid either to hit or run with a ball. Our souls were filled with self-righteous anger towards this subsection of humanity.

As sports obsessives in the 1990s who treated the England cricket and rugby teams like extensions of our own family, we spent a lot of time watching those we loved getting beaten up by bigger, stronger, blonder boys with nasal twangs. And it made us mad as hell. This wasn't just sport, it was the triumph of tyranny. If I had been Arya Stark, my favourite Game of Thrones character, I'd probably have fallen asleep muttering their names to myself in a vengeful voice. Steve Waugh. Matt Burke. Wendell Sailor. Shane Warne.

A better person, or a slightly saner one, would have appreciated that that Australian cricket team was one of the greatest collectives in sporting history, and found something to admire there. But it is hard to look up in wonder when your nose is being ground in the dirt.

If Healy was an obdurate gnome, Gilchrist was a gremlin someone had fed after midnight, and possibly injected with cocaine

In the middle of this very painful (and did I mention angry?) time for me, Australia got a new wicketkeeper. Until then they'd had Ian Healy, a man custom-built to demoralise the opposition. You know when you're pulling up weeds and you come across a root that looks like it'll come loose with a quick slip of the trowel, and then, half an hour later, you're still there, sweating and straining with a garden fork, staring at an ugly hole in your flower bed and cursing this thing that seems to be clinging to the very centre of the earth? That was how it felt to watch Healy bat.

Anyway, Healy made way for Adam Gilchrist, a man who looked like a cartoon weasel. You could tell from his facial features that he was going to be trouble. There couldn't have been more naughtiness written all over his features if he'd passed out next to a college frat boy holding a Sharpie. If Healy was an obdurate gnome, Gilchrist was a gremlin someone had fed after midnight, and possibly injected with cocaine.

It's funny how Gilchrist's innings, fashioned as they were out of high explosive, seemed entirely unique in the era before T20. How they landed on Test matches like meteorites, obliterating all that had come before. He batted with the unfettered exuberance of a schoolboy, humbly telling the world that he wasn't trying to do anything more complicated than to hit the ball the way his dad had taught him. In an era when England's best batsmen couldn't get out of their heads long enough to make it to double figures, it just added insult to injury.

Unlike Kevin Pietersen, Gilchrist's free-hitting style never became an excuse for getting out early. In the Ashes summer of 2001, he perfected the particularly annoying habit of coming in just when a game looked like it might get interesting, and ruining it for everyone with one of his irrepressible counterattacks. And say what you like about his record-breaking 149 in the 2007 World Cup final, but didn't it wreck the game as a contest?

Our model, their model: Alec Stewart didn't quite come off in the best light in comparison with Gilchrist

Our model, their model: Alec Stewart didn't quite come off in the best light in comparison with Gilchrist © Getty Images

What was particularly offensive about Gilchrist was that he could keep wicket too. At a time when every other team was struggling to find a keeper who could bat, or a batsman who could keep, Gilchrist made both arts look distressingly easy. For an England fan who had spent the best part of a decade reliving the Alec Stewart debate - should our best batsman really be hampered by the extra demand of wearing the gloves? - his all-round excellence was especially galling. It seemed, not to put too fine a point on it, to be taking the piss.

But the worst thing about Gilchrist - the thing that really stuck in my craw, the reason he became the noirest of all my Australian bêtes - was simply this: there wasn't a single good reason to dislike him. This had never been an issue before. Most of the Aussies gave you something to work with - rudeness, arrogance, terrible hair - and Warne generously did it every time he opened his mouth. But Gilchrist wasn't only the most entertaining player in their side, he seemed like a decent guy too, damn him.

He seemed free of the insolent swagger of some of his team-mates. He was married to his high-school sweetheart. And then there was that bloody walk. The one that the cricket world reacted to as if he'd somehow channelled Mandela and Gandhi with that one glorious, righteous act. This despite the fact that, as Healy has pointed out, Gilchrist was never in another situation where he had to walk in international cricket. And his apparently superlative morals never stopped him joining the team in dubious appealing or angry sledging.

Oh, who am I kidding. Even as I write this, I know I can't convince anyone to find fault with Gilly. The man scored a 57-ball Ashes century, for Pete's sake. He smashed 24 runs* in a Monty Panesar over, which was pretty much the only entertaining thing about that 2006-07 whitewash. But I wasn't ready to like an Aussie cricketer at that stage of my personal development, much less love one. God forgive me.

* A previous version of this article wrongly stated that Gilchrist struck four sixes and two fours in a Monty Panesar over

Emma John is the author of Following On: A Memoir of Teenage Obsession and Terrible Cricket

 

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  • POSTED BY harshthakor on | January 25, 2017, 5:09 GMT

    Although he only averaged 47 in test matches arguably it was Gilchrist who made the highest contribution in shaping Australia into an invincible cricketing superpower.No batsmen at 5 down in tests or opening in O.D.I.'s could equal his prowess as match-winner.It is remarkable that he averaged over 60 in the 1st half of his career.Above all he was most unselfish and did not care about his batting average.Gilly deserves a place amongst the top dozen cricketers of all time wit the likes of Warne and Tendulkar.With Gary Sobers Gilchrist was the best ever match-winner amongst left-handed cricketers and overall perhaps only Don Bradman,Viv Richards,Gary Sobers and Ian Botham at his peak were marginally ahead of him as a match-winner.No wicketkeeping batsmen could ever ressurect a side from the grave to register a famous win like Gilly.A strong contender for the 5 most entertaining cricketers of all.

    Above all he radiated joy to everyone blazing the spirit of the game more than anything.

  • POSTED BY harshthakor on | January 25, 2017, 5:00 GMT

    Adam Gilchrist was the greatest match-winner,most intimidating and most enthralling cricketer of his era.At his best he could turn the complexion of game more than any batsmen creating the impact of a tornado or a blitzkreig.No batsmen was ever his equal at five down .and in O.D.I's his only equals were Chris Gayle and Virendra Sehwag.Gilly,blended the power of a bulldozer with the skill of atechnician.Above all he was great sportsman who always walked when he knew he was out,unlike cricketers of the modern generation.Thus he made an important contribution in ressurecting the moral spirit of the game in addition to his spectacular achievements.

  • POSTED BY gooddoctor on | January 19, 2017, 5:49 GMT

    what a beautifully written article for an excellent cricketer and a gentleman.He was excellent at his trade because he made his place in a team which was best ever. Thanks ms John for an awesome tribute.

  • POSTED BY ravi on | January 19, 2017, 5:48 GMT

    Adam Gilchrist is a much revered cricketer. One blemish is the caught behind the wicket appeal that he shamelessly did of Rahul Dravid in the infuriating Test at Sydney in 2008. The man lost all my respect that day. He was blind with hate for the Indians - and Rahul Dravid who is the epitome of grace and love on the cricketing pitch was mercilessly given out by Steve Bucknor.

    Adam Gilchrist lost it for me on that day.

  • POSTED BY dunger.bob on | January 19, 2017, 0:08 GMT

    Love the claims that he was a so-so keeper. Just love them to pieces. Nothing but sour grapes and prejudiced thinking in my view. The man was given the responsibility of keeping to one of the greatest bowling attacks ever assembled. Do you really think that Warne, McGrath, Gillespie and Lee would have put up with it if he was a poor keeper? Not very likely is it. .. I saw him take catches other keepers wouldn't even go for.

  • POSTED BY CricketChat on | January 18, 2017, 17:50 GMT

    No true cricket follower would ever be angry or upset with Gilchrist. He was the ultimate cricket entertainer of the modern era, better than Sachin, Ponting, Hayden, Lara and the lot. Never worried about averages, staying not out, nor aggregates. Just see the ball and hit it.

  • POSTED BY Bilal_Choudry on | January 18, 2017, 15:27 GMT

    Great cricketer without a doubt probably the wicketkeeper for most of all time XIs. Not so sure about the articles claims. Easy to come across as a walker when your team is ahead by a country mile. Didnt see him or Langer walk in hobart 99 test.

  • POSTED BY RedInkling on | January 18, 2017, 12:30 GMT

    I have read Gilchrist's autobiography and the way he crafts each sentence and talks about loyalty and respect really juxtaposes some other autobiographies I have come to read. If anyone says that Gilchrist cheated with the squash ball, think of Gilchrist's personality, would he be the one to cheat?

  • POSTED BY simplythebaz on | January 18, 2017, 8:46 GMT

    Emma, couldn't have put it better. No matter how many times he thwarted us, I could never loathe him in the way I did McGrath or Ponting, or Warne, or any of the other Aussies, to be honest. I just hope none of my Aussie mates see this comment!

  • POSTED BY cricfan61269437 on | January 18, 2017, 8:44 GMT

    I don't think Warny liked Gilchrist very much. Gilchrist changed the face of Australian winning mentality. The innings with Langer to turn defeat into a victory was amazing. The Aussie had a history of choking chasing a score. That group of players changed that.

  • POSTED BY SRT4ever on | January 18, 2017, 8:29 GMT

    @Mad_Hamish: "the laws committee has not even looked at changing the law to ban it" - That's the point of my post..had a Sangakara done the same with the same outcome, I don't feel Ponting would have been real cool about it, neither CA.

  • POSTED BY Wagga on | January 18, 2017, 7:48 GMT

    @ MAD_HAMISH - not really what I'm talking about. I mean if the game was on the line at the time. I don't think Gilly would have walked in that match if Aussie were 9 down with 5 runs to get. But that's just my instinct. That would be the real litmus test, though.

  • POSTED BY Mad_Hamish on | January 17, 2017, 22:45 GMT

    @SRT4ever applying foreign materials to a ball is specifically ruled out in the laws of the game. External protective equipment is covered in the laws. The squash ball was inside the glove so it was allowed and, afaik, the laws committee has not even looked at changing the law to ban it.

  • POSTED BY Mad_Hamish on | January 17, 2017, 22:38 GMT

    @WAGGA he walked in the World Cup semi-final in 2003. That's an elimination match so the world cup was on the line.

  • POSTED BY SRT4ever on | January 17, 2017, 11:55 GMT

    Gilchrist was wonderful, an opponent you admire. And that's why I feel he got away with the ball in glove incident. If applying gel or sun cream on ball is unfair, using a non-cricketing equipment to improve your grip is equally unfair. Wonder if a player of lesser repute would have been applauded for same or if a Srilankan player had smashed his way to match defining knock in the final similarly, CA or cricket world would have reacted the same way.

  • POSTED BY Eadezee on | January 17, 2017, 11:26 GMT

    Adam Gilchrist, great player & nice bloke. I was lucky enough to see him play a few times & on one occasion (Australia v Bangladesh ODI at Canterbury in 2005) he walked when the ball moved off the pitch and ended up in the hands of first slip despite the fact that his bat had hit the ground and not the ball....strange but true.

  • POSTED BY andyc60 on | January 17, 2017, 8:44 GMT

    Hi didn't hit Monty for four sixes and two fours in an over - that would have given him 32 runs off an over which would be a Test record (http://stats.espncricinfo.com/wi/content/records/233006.html). His big over went dot, 2, 6, 6, 4, 6.

  • POSTED BY Indian_Fan09 on | January 17, 2017, 8:42 GMT

    @ mikeindex on. I dont know if you are referring to an earlier article but the recent one by Davis (http://www.espn.com/cricket/story/_/id/17701410/charles-davis-numbers-dropped-catches) has Gilchrist with 12%, one of the lowest. Boucher had 10%, whereas Kamran Akmal had 20% & Dhoni had 18%. If you go on ignoring factors like the number of matches played or the number of chances grabbed v missed, Boucher leads the pack with 364 misses. Unsurprising, considering the volume of matches played/chances faced. Gilchrist may not be the best keeper of all but his numbers are in the upper quartile, which is more than acceptable!

  • POSTED BY Wagga on | January 17, 2017, 7:03 GMT

    I think his walking/great sportsmanship has become a little apocryphal over time, personally. Gilly's own contention that he was a walker was never truly tested. Does anyone really think he would have walked if a World Cup, or deciding Ashes test, were on the line? I can't see it happening. Walking when there are no real consequences is a little different, and Gilly was far from the the first or last player to do that. Saint Gilly anyone?

    However I am happy to have had the chance to watch his career, and it can't be denied that he changed the role of the wicketkeeper, and was amazingly exciting to watch as well. I'll also concede that we interviews like someone who stood out in the Aussie team as likeable, which was and remains pretty rare.

  • POSTED BY Unnikuttan on | January 17, 2017, 6:05 GMT

    The greatest ever keeper batsman (and nicest). Set a new benchmark for keepers. I remember watching him that Hobart test with Australia chasing 369. Batting looked so easy against the likes of Akram, Waqar, Saqi, Akthar etc

  • POSTED BY devendra28 on | January 17, 2017, 4:41 GMT

    If I have to name a gentlemen cricketer from Australia I will name it Adam Gilchrist. I have watched many cricketers from Australia in the past 30 odd years but none come close to Gilchrist as an overall gentlemen cricketer. He is the one who has set the Gilchrist standard for the keeper batsman. Batting was considered to be an add on skill for a glove man, that got changed post Gilchrist era, now batting is considered an essential requirement for a keeper batsman.

  • POSTED BY ThreePIllarTales on | January 17, 2017, 3:39 GMT

    Emma.....a lovely signet of writing. As a pommie, you can appreciate the anguish of our years under the yoke of the marvellous magnificent Beefy. There goes one who should be australian but for the luck of his forefathers. England's lion to ravage our lads. It will be a long long time before we get another Oz team like That particular one. Unfortunately, every spin bowler and wicket keeper seeking the baggy green is unfairly tasked with meeting expectations of similar ilk. The litmus is the same for any south african captain or allrounder.

    As for rugby of either forms...that's another discussion but I'd say within a decade or two, England may wish to import Australian soccer players in the same manner as cricket. Soccer is finally lifting its head to capture talent traditionally associated with other winter sports. We will see some great specimens of Australian cattle in the international arena over coming years. I'd expect England to reach into its records from the First Fleet.

  • POSTED BY A_HTIMAN on | January 17, 2017, 3:23 GMT

    @MIKEINDEX ON Your stats from Charles Davis is misleading. Quoting him "There is nevertheless a gap between Dhoni (19% missed chances) and Gilchrist (14%). Most keepers are between these two figures, although Mark Boucher, at 10%, represents a gold standard." Even though Gilchrist missed most chances (as he and Boucher are way ahead of the number of matches in 2000-2010 period) it should be noted that he was better (when missed chances are considered) than almost all the other keepers in this period except Boucher.

  • POSTED BY Shakib Ishfaq on | January 17, 2017, 2:40 GMT

    Kind of similar to how I have enjoyed Indian cricketers over the years being a Pakistan supporter. I should really dislike them, however, the likes of Dravid, Sachin, Kohli and Dhoni are endearing. Every time I watch or have watched them, I want them to do well. I am not ashamed to say Kohli is now my favourite cricketer.

  • POSTED BY Mad_Hamish on | January 17, 2017, 2:20 GMT

    Gilchrist was never a top class keeper. He was (reasonably) competent and athletic enough that he did get to some balls that some other keepers wouldn't have reached. As far as his batting goes versus Flower it's hard to be sure because I never saw much of Flower in tests but the impression I get is that Flower was better against spin but Gilchrist was probably a better player of pace bowling overall (although Flower's record against RSA is top class). Flower batted further up the order, Gilchrist virtually always at #7. Gilchrist made more 100s at a higher frequency but had a lot more 0s. Gilchrist score at a much higher pace (strike rate in the 80s vs mid 40s). You could make a case for either of them as the better batsman. Dunno how Flower's glovework was, I don't get the impression that he was a top class keeper either. Gilchrist retired in 2008 so he played in most of the decade and he played 96 tests which is probably comparable to any other keeper in the decade.

  • POSTED BY anchovy on | January 17, 2017, 1:37 GMT

    Very amusing article, Emma. I would just like to add that there has been at least one other international match where Gilchrist has walked. This was a ODI against Bangladesh, in 2005. On this occasion, Gilchrist thought he had edged the ball to first slip, so he walked off the field. However, replays showed that the ball spun out of the footmarks, and that Gilchrist had missed the ball. You could argue that the act of walking did not mean much in the middle of a three-team series, but it is further evidence that Gilchrist backed up his words with actions. I could not find the video replay online, but there is a Cricinfo article that details the event: http://www.espncricinfo.com/natwestseries/content/story/212374.html

  • POSTED BY cricketcarl on | January 17, 2017, 0:31 GMT

    incredible cricketer, can only imagine his t20 performances if he was born a decade later, yes gilchrist walked alright, all the way to the closest squash supply store to prepare for the 07 wc final, he had been told that squash balls were half price for a limited time. but seriously, one of the most entertaining and competitive cricketers of all time, could also easily have been a long term captain in any format.

  • POSTED BY Azfar on | January 16, 2017, 21:51 GMT

    I also find it surprising that despite being a Pakistani. I cannot loathe Kohli and Dhoni. Both are super amazing!

  • POSTED BY Beertjie on | January 16, 2017, 21:00 GMT

    My favourite cricketer after watching international cricket for 55 years. Thanks for this one Emma: you beaut Gilly (and I'm not even Australian!)

  • POSTED BY mikeindex on | January 16, 2017, 19:59 GMT

    Excellent article Emma. Well said about the appealing and the sledging. For all his much vaunted sportsmanship, Gilchrist certainly made no attempt to restrain the loathsome excesses of his team-mates and seems to have joined in with a will himself at times. I never found him particularly dislikeable (unlike Hayden, Symonds and several others), but I always felt his public image was too good to be true and that both his morals and his cricket were and remain over-hyped. To my mind at least a dozen international wicket-keepers I've seen have been superior glovemen, and one (Andy Flower) was a better batsman as well. Interestingly, according to research compiled by that most comprehensive and meticulous of cricket statisticians Charles Davis, Gilchrist - despite retiring two-thirds of the way through the decade - missed more chances than any other international WK in the decade 2000-2010 INCLUDING KAMRAN AKMAL.

  • POSTED BY cricketcritic on | January 16, 2017, 19:09 GMT

    Was pretty easy to loathe him when he all of a sudden started walking when he was out BUT at the same time appealed for anything and everything on the field. Who can forget him lecturing Craig McMillan at the Gabba for not walking - with the debate stretching to the sidelines after the match - and clearly failing to take on board McMillan's advice that "you can walk if you want Gilly, but don't expect us to"

  • POSTED BY Hrolf on | January 16, 2017, 18:37 GMT

    Well written article but I have to say a couple of things niggled Australian supporters. When he was brought into the Test side at the expense of Healy it took a good year to get over it. Healy was at that stage the best keeper Australia had had in living memory, and his batting record was up with the best of them. Dropping him for what appeared to be an inferior keeper for the sake of a few more runs was pretty blasphemous at the time. The other problem was his walking. Whilst many Australians appreciated the honesty, there were equally those who didn't. The squash ball incident was also looked on suspiciously in some quarters. But I agree, he did seem to have near universal appeal.

  • POSTED BY Cricket_theBestGame on | January 10, 2017, 3:30 GMT

    there is one thing Emma, as you've said, his dubious appealing throughout his career and sledging yet that one walk keeps burying the other two bad continuous deeds !

  • POSTED BY KerneelsMerkII on | January 6, 2017, 9:45 GMT

    His ears. That is it. I can think of nothing else to dislike about him. The type of cricketer I will one day tell my grandkids I saw play live...

  • POSTED BY sreejith.mullappilli on | January 4, 2017, 3:22 GMT

    Dear Emma,

    It is an awfully hilarious article. Had a laugh at every line you wrote. Keep it up. :)