Adam Gilchrist: 'Twenty20 is a hit, but there's a limit to how much we can take'

Aussie leads the stellar imports for an extended T20 season. Jon Culley hears why he couldn't resist the crowds
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The Independent Online

Even at 38, two years on from his retirement from the Test career in which he so spectacularly redefined the role of wicketkeeper, Adam Gilchrist hardly looks out of condition, but he had to wince when he pulled on the tight-fitting pink shirt that will be his uniform for the next few weeks.

"The first thing I'll say is that it is going to be really tough to play a full game breathing in the whole time," he said. "With the cut of shirt they have these days in Twenty20 it is clearly a young man's game."

Gilchrist is being introduced, flanked by chief executive Vinny Codrington and director of professional cricket, Angus Fraser, as the marquee signing Middlesex hope will draw the crowds to the five matches Lord's will stage in this summer's revamped Twenty20 competition.

The doubts over which home players would be free to take part, and how much they could use England's new status as Twenty20 world champions as a marketing tool, has led many counties to recruit vigorously from abroad, taking advantage of the changes in the rules that allow two overseas players per match, with up to four on their books.

As a result, the tournament does have an impressive line-up of big-name participants. Apart from Gilchrist and Warner at Middlesex, other Australians include Andrew Symonds at Surrey, David Hussey and Dirk Nannes at Nottinghamshire, Shaun Tait at Glamorgan and Brad Hodge with Leicestershire.

South African Albie Morkel joins Durham along with Ross Taylor of New Zealand. Taylor's countryman Brendon McCullum, whose unbeaten 158 for Kolkata Knight Riders in 2008 remains the format's highest individual innings, will turn out in seven matches for Sussex.

Lord's discovered the potential for the shortest form of the game on a July night in 2004, when 26,500 people turned up to watch Middlesex play Surrey, the largest attendance at a county game for half a century. They admit that this year, with the format expanded to 151 matches from 97 last season, will be a challenge. Beginning with the visit of defending T20 champions Sussex tonight, Lord's will stage five of Middlesex's eight home group matches, with two at Uxbridge and one at Richmond.

Gilchrist, who will be joined by fellow Australian David Warner next week, is contracted to play the five Lord's matches. Due to the congested international cricket calendar, many counties have had to accept that their overseas stars are not available for the tournament's full seven-week league segment, which is another factor that questions the wisdom of expanding the event so dramatically.

It is a debate which Gilchrist is not shy about contributing to, even though, as one of the major earners in the Indian Premier League, he has benefited considerably from the explosion in Twenty20's popularity. "It is a big jump this year, going up to 16 games per county," he said. "The IPL is going bigger next year, too. How much further can you go?

"We have to be very smart with it and make sure that we monitor that. I think we are very close to the limit of how much cricket we can stage in general and T20 has raced to the fore. But, this great tool we have got, let's not burn it out."

He sees, too, the difficulties faced by international boards in trying to keep players fresh and fit. "For the quality of this tournament, it would be fantastic to have all the England players available," he said. "I have been in that situation and it is very difficult to get the right balance [between playing and resting].

"If someone doesn't play because he has the opportunity to rest, the public shouldn't beat up on him. They are just trying to be as good as they can for as long as they can, first for their country, then their county.

"But the IPL has moved the goalposts and clouded the issue a bit. But as professional cricketers, we have to tread carefully. I know a number of Australian players who have stayed away from the IPL for reasons of prolonging their Test careers and that's something all players have to weigh up."

Gilchrist will achieve a career first by playing against Australia in a 50-over match and is looking forward to meeting England's rising star, Steven Finn when they line up together.

"He looks impressive. I saw him make his Test debut against Bangladesh on TV and it looked like a hard slog but his confidence did not seem to be dented by it and I was very impressed by the way he played at Lord's last week.

"It is funny that I'm already texting him and exchanging messages saying 'congratulations' and 'welcome' and 'can't wait to play with you' but I've not actually met him yet."

Finn is expected to in the vanguard of England's Ashes plans by the end of the summer and Gilchrist already believes he could be one of the players who holds the key to the outcome when battle is rejoined in November.

"You can't say really who is favourite at the moment because a lot of cricket to to be played. Last year was a bit nervy with a lot of players making their Ashes debut and England just about did enough.

"I think it will come down to the bowling, which team has the full strength bowling line up on the park for the longest."

Gilchrist's contract is to play only the five matches at Lord's and involves no away matches, although for reasons of nostalgia he has also chosen to play against Glamorgan at Richmond. "When I saw they had a fixture there I jumped at the chance," he said. "I was here playing for Richmond in 1989 in the Middlesex County League as a 17-year-old.

"It was my most important year developmentally, both on the field and off it, learning about life away from home, independence and the big wide world outside the comforts of mum and dad's house. It was then that I would come to Lord's, sit here and watch whatever game was going on just hoping that one day I could get a crack at it."

International cricket has allowed him "a crack at it" many times but this engagement, in a symmetrical sense, completes his career's journey.

Here for the Twenty20

Derbyshire Loots Bosman, Charl Langeveldt (both South Africa)

Durham Ross Taylor (New Zealand), Albie Morkel (South Africa)

Essex Scott Styris (New Zealand)

Glamorgan Shaun Tait (Australia)

Gloucestershire No specialist signing

Hampshire Abdul Razzaq (Pakistan)

Kent and Lancashire No specialist signing

Leicestershire Brad Hodge (Australia)

Middlesex Adam Gilchrist, David Warner (both Australia)

Northamptonshire Juan Theron (SA)

Nottinghamshire Dirk Nannes, David Hussey (both Aus)

Somerset Kieron Pollard (West Indies), Cameron White (Australia)

Surrey Andrew Symonds (Australia)

Sussex Dwayne Smith (West Indies), Brendon McCullum (New Zealand)

Warwickshire No specialist signing

Worcestershire Steve Smith (Australia), Sanath Jayasuriya (Sri Lanka)

Yorkshire Herschelle Gibbs (South Africa) and Clint McKay (Australia).