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Gilchrist best match-winner amongst left-handed cricketers after Garry Sobers

By Harsh Thakor 

Adam Gilchrist was arguably the greatest match-winner amongst cricketers in his era and amongst the ten best cricketers of all time. Without doubt, the best ever 5 down batsmen, in the history of the game, and best ever wicketkeeper batsmen. With the exception of Virendra Sehwag, no batsman was as explosive in his time, and no batsmen could so rapidly, single handedly turn game, making the impact of a blitzkrieg or dynamite exploding.
Few cricketers ever more tormented the opposition or unleashed as thunderous power , reducing the bowling to sheer mockery and scoring at a whirlwind speed. One got vibrations of a stadium being set on fire. None was more adept in pressing home advantages or dramatically changing the complexion of game. Gilchrist often gave vibrations of making a complete twist in a plot or writing new chapter in a novel or script.
Gilchrist dissected an attack, more clinically or surgically than any batsmen of his day. Few better sent ball crashing down to the ropes at Rocket speed. His dynamic stroke play blended with astute wicket keeping skills, made him debatably the most influential cricketer of his generation. Few ever were more a manifestation of cricketing energy and aggression or more cool and calculating.
In pressure situations, few were ever more ice cool as Gilchrist, who was an embodiment of sporting temperament. After half the side was dismissed no one in equal magnitude could resurrect a team from dire straits and turn a lost cause into a glorious victory. It was arguably an advantage that Gilchrist began his test career at relatively late stage. He was waiting in the wings, playing for duration of three years in the Aussie ODI side.
Gilchrist, arguably more than even Ricky Ponting, was responsible for propelling Australia into, perhaps the best cricketing nation ever. He was the prop of a team that ruled the world, like perhaps no nation ever. The scoring rate of Gilchrist virtually defied the law of averages ,traversing domination in regions unscaled.Great fast bowers like Wasim Akram were more intimidated by Gilchrist than Sachin Tendulkar or Brian Lara, who literally sent shivers down their spine. In cricket history few could ever infuse energy at a higher level than Gilchrist. Gilchrist possessed 2 gears, one top, and the other overdrive, which would simply brutalise the opposition.
Rarely did any batsmen possess such a free swing of the bat, executing strokes in front of the wicket, as though teeing on a golf course. No one with as much assurance or as clinically resorted to lofting the ball into the air. Few ever better blended cross batted strokes with straight ones. Few batsmen were ever better square on the offside as Gilchrist, who literally made the ball race like a rocket. As a wicket keeper, Gilchrist was acrobatic, and supremely fit, with the quickest of reflexes. Still, Rod Marsh was more acrobatic and Ian Healy had more finesse.

Best cricketing performances

Gilchrist received his baptism after moving from New South Wales to Western Australia, spending a summer in England. A match-winning hundred gave the cricket world it’s first glimpse of his great talent, with his cleanly struck sixes. Encompassing the entire globe, Gilchrist compiled classics, be it in Hobart, Mumbai, Birmingham, Johannesburg and Cape Town.
In 1999-2000 at Hobart Australia were chasing target of 369, and were in the doldrums at 128-5.Wth Justin Langer, Gilchrist performed near miracle, to spectacularly resurrect Australia from the grave, to reach the pinnacle of glory. Gilchrist scored 149, in cavalier style, with swashbuckling strokes. Earlier, in his very first test, Gilchrist scored a scintillating 81, of 88 balls.
In Mumbai in 2001, from 90-5 with his team tottering, his batting placed Australia in an unassailable position, and triumph. In Birmingham in 2001, Gilchrist massacred the English bowling, plundering 152 runs of a mere 143 deliveries. In 2001-02 against South Africa at Wanderers, Gilchrist scored the then fastest double century, against a high quality South African pace attach, batting in the manner of a combing operation being launched. Struggling at 293-5, Gillchrist elevated the total to 652-7, scoring an unbeaten 204.
In Kandy in 2004, batting at no 3, he plundered 144 from 185 balls, in game where the first 21 wickets had fallen for a mere 342 runs. Rarely has an innings created such a dramatic turnabout in the fortunes of a test match. In Christchurch in 2005, in the manner of a thunderbolt Gilchrist bludgeoned 121 from 126 balls, with 12 boundaries and a six. In 2006 at Perth, Gilchrist penetrated zones rarely scale in batting ,reminiscent of lightning striking a cricket field, scoring 102 of a mere 57 balls
In the 20007 world cup final in West Indies against Sri Lanka bating as an opener, Gilchrist scored149 of 104 balls, to make score beyond the reach of Sri Lanka and win the title for Australia. ODI cricket very rarely witnessed clinical or surgical destruction of bowling at such a height. Domination was taken to realms untranscended , in a world cup final. Gilchrist also scored a match-winning 54 of 36 balls in the 1999world cup final at Lords, and 57 of 48 balls in the 2002 world cup final at Johannesburg, both to seal the world cup title.

Assessment as a player

Incredible that in the first half of his career Gilchrist averaged above 60 in test cricket. In ODI cricket Gilchrist opened the batting, scoring at phenomenal strike rate. His strike rate in test cricket, was 81.95 per hundred balls, below only Virendra Sehwag. In ODI’s.he escalated it to 97.Gilchrist retired from test cricket with a record haul of dismissals, capturing 414 victims. Gilchrist was the only one to exceed figure of 100 sixes in test cricket and scored the 2nd fastest test century of 57 balls, against England at Perth.
In 96 tests, Gilchrist scored 17 centuries, at an average of over 47, with an aggregate of 5570 runs. Remarkable, after his first 47 tests, he averaged 60.25, which only 4 batsmen ever, exceeded in terms of average. In his next 33 tests, his performance sided, to averaging 39.26. Praiseworthy that he averaged 50.24 away, in contrast to 45.87 at home. In wining causes Gilchrist averaged 82.26, scoring 5266 runs, and 14 centuries. Statistically, Gilly was the greatest match-winner amongst left handed batsmen. 73 out of the 96 tests he played in, were in winning causes. Remarkable that in challenging South African conditions, Gilchrist averaged 65.37. In New Zealand he averaged 81.16.
Strangely, in England, he averaged 40.07.Facing high class Pakistan bowling at home Gilchrist averaged a commendable 68.44. In ODI’s Gilchrist scored runs at an average of 35.89, scoring 16 centuries and 55 fifties, in addition to 55stumpings and 455 catches. All his 16 centuries were part of winning causes, where he averaged 41.16.
His figures could hardly reveal his moral contribution or staggering impact. I would rate Gilchrist as the best match-winner amongst left-handed cricketers, after Sir Garfield Sobers. Late Cristopher Martin Jenkins placed Gilchrist at 10th place amongst the 100 best cricketers ever, above greats like Glen Mcgrath, Ricky Ponting Brian Lara , Jacques Kallis or even Imran Khan.In contrast David Gower ranks Gilchrist at 41st place behind likes of Brian Lara, Alan Border , Jacques Kallis ,Ricky Ponting, Wasim Akram and AB Deviliers.
Gilchrist won more games than Wasim Akram or Brian Lara.Kumar Kumar Sangakkara has considerably better figures ,averaging around 55 ,and scoring double aggregate of runs, but could not turn games in the manner of Gilchrist. As a pure match-winner Gilchrist could arguably secure a place amongst the top 5cricketers of all time, with superstars like Don Bradman, Gary Sobers Viv Richards and Shane Warne.
Overall, in my view, as a cricketer, Gilchrist is on par with Jacques Kalllis and AB Devilliers ,and a whisker below Wasim Akram, Ian Botham and Brian Lara. He would comprise my 15 best cricketers, of all time. Very complex to assess his place amongst the pantheon of greats, as he represented a champion side, played at 5 down in test cricket and was not as skillfull behind the stumps as Alan Knott or Rodney Marsh.
Representing an all-time left handed Xi against one of right handers, Gilchrist’s value to the team would perhaps only be behind Sir Garfield Sobers. In the history of the game, for sheer domination in batting, only Gilbert Jessop, Viv Richards, Virendra Sehwag and AB Devilliers, could possibly surpass Gilchrist. I would have to place a gun on my head to choose between Alan Knott and Gilchrist in an all-time XI in test cricket, but in an all-time ODI XI, Gilly would e a certainty, for selection.
Above all, Gilchrist epitomised sportsmanship in game, which had fallen to the morass of crass commercialism. He was the only Australian cricketer, who walked, even being wrongly declared not out. He walked in the 2003 world cup semi-final and at Leeds in 2001,made a sporting declaration, though his team was defeated .Gilchrist resurrected the spirit of cricket, that was tarnished ,from the 1970’s,in Australia.
---
Harsh Thakor is freelance journalist

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