Cricket: From 'Dizzy' to fizzy

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AUSSIE cricketers enjoy creating a nickname for their playing mates, not so much the plain abbreviations such as "Heals" but those jigsaw-like masterpieces that announce the presence of an active mind.

The headline writers dubbed the great Terry Alderman "The Smiling Assassin" when he cut Graham Gooch off at the knee roll in 1989, but to his Australian team-mates Alderman was simply "Clem". This had its origins in 1970 when the pitch at the Gabba was as friendly to fast bowlers as the one at the WACA was for three days last week; the overalled gentleman in charge of rolling and watering, mostly the latter, was Brisbane's Lord Mayor, Clem Jones. Twenty years later he was gone, but not forgotten.

So, when a stringbean, name of Gillespie, with a pigeon chest and a ponytail began making a big noise on the Australian scene four summers back, what else could the current bunch of Australian cricketers call him other than "Dizzy"? Jason Gillespie's first-class cricketing career reflects the commonest fairy formula: the frog turns into the prince. Think of Gillespie as cricket's Sgt Pepper. He is 23 years old, going on 43. There is a rocky relationship with an older lady who doesn't like the game that Jason finds orgasmic. They have a daughter, Sapphire whose sister is Star, but from the lady's previous relationship.

It is well recorded that inspiration suddenly shared a net with Gillespie at the Adelaide Cricket Club's mid-week practice and he abandoned medium pace for fiery pace, but still with an ugly action. This abrupt change in attitude inspired his club-mates to nickname him "The Lion of Adelaide", a not-so-gentle hint that he was no Imran Khan.

His response to his peers was teenage bravado, or so everyone present thought: "By the time I'm 19 I'll be playing for South Australia [laughter] and, by the time I'm 21 I'll be playing for Australia." True to his word, he did exactly that. His Test strike-rate is quite remarkable, a wicket about every 45 balls. The highlight may be the 7 for 37 at Headingley in 1997 but Gillespie himself appears to have some doubts.

"Bowling down a slope on a green deck... it's seaming... Blind Bob could do that," he said when asked to recall the moment. Since that Ashes tour, until last week's Test, he has been off the scene with the most common injury among the modern fast bowling brotherhood, the bad back. Was the body too scrawny or not wiry enough? Or was the action a mess? According to the great Denis Lillee, now a coach, it was the latter. Now that he's back, and after that devastating spell at the WACA, the tipsters are saying McGrath and Gillespie are the next Lillee and Thomson.

Gillespie has added some backbone to that theory. "Thommo" once got into trouble for saying with feeling: "The sound of the ball hitting the batsman's skull is music to my ears." Gillespie announced recently: "I wouldn't give a rat's if there was blood on the pitch..." But he added: "I wouldn't say it was the most enjoyable experience of my life but I wouldn't be on a downer if it happened, you know." Perhaps he's not quite made of the same stuff as Thommo.

Certainly his physique does not match Thommo's, which was pure muscle. By his own admission the new action that is the product of his recent fitness problems has to be nursed, grooved over time, and care has to be taken that enthusiasm, Gillespie's strong suit, does not get in the way of commonsense lest the body again crumble. The great irony is that having sunk England on the third morning at the WACA Gillespie may not be afforded the honour of making a triumphant return to his beloved Adelaide Oval in the Third Ashes Test. He might carry the drinks.

The reason for that seemingly incredible circumstance is the horses-for- courses philosophy being relentlessly pursued by the Australian selectors. Adelaide might be Gillespie's home, but in the last decade the pitch has developed a reputation for taking considerable spin late in the game and the selectors might want to play two spinners, Colin Miller and Stuart MacGill.

MacGill will play although those wondering if the selectors had lost their marbles when they dropped him for Perth must now see the wisdom of that decision. But could not Mark Waugh do Miller's off-spinning job, therefore allowing Gillespie to remain?

If the selectors are true to their word, there must be a good case for the dropping of Ponting for the local boy Lehmann. Adelaide's short, square boundaries favour the cutters and pullers and there may not be a better one in the game at the moment than the South Australian left-hander. It seems almost tragic that he could be sitting in the grandstand again.