Jason Gillespie had not been back in England for 24 hours and already the wisecracks had started. "Dizzy, you'd better be worth t'bloody money," came the cry from the Northern Enclosure as the fast bowler with the surname now prefixed with the words "Aussie Ashes flop" walked around the perimeter of Headingley.
A wry smile crept under that long-lamented goatee. He had heard it all before, indeed far worse not even a year ago, and it was like water of a golden duck's back, especially to the world's newest and unlikeliest Test double centurion. Gillespie quietly made his way to the canteen, hopeful that his welcome to Yorkshire was just about to get a great deal more friendly, not to mention wholesome. "Look, I've been eating three omelettes a day for a fortnight in Bangladesh," he said, piling his plate with everything he could find in the silver trays.
"Mind if I fill up the truck while we talk? In fact, that's not bad a place to start is it, Bangladesh? Fire away." He looked up, daring me to empty the cartridge of anything that went before. "Go on then, 201 not out, how the hell did you become the first nightwatchman to get a double century?".
Gillespie laughed, scooped another mouthful and began. Our interview took place almost as soon as he had arrived in England, and his mind was still dazed from the travel. But as the knock of a lifetime had finished just a few days earlier his memory was still fresh from the glory. "What a week. Where do I start? It's not been a bloody normal one, I can tell you."
Within an instant, or rather, two more spuds, he was back in the land of his Chittagong bang, bang and so the noise outside of his new county succumbing to Derbyshire in the C&G Trophy faded away. "It was surreal from beginning to finish," he recalled. "From the moment the phone rang just as I was getting my stuff ready to fly over to Leeds, saying 'get your arse over to Bangladesh - tomorrow.' I was excited to be back, but as I hadn't been picked since the Ashes I wasn't expecting to play. So I only took two pairs of batting gloves. That was my first mistake. It's so hot over there you go through them like there's no tomorrow."
And for that batsman who walked out on the first evening of the second Test there most definitely was a tomorrow. Just as there would be a day after tomorrow and even a day after that. "Do you know, I didn't even think about it until Mike Hussey said, 'don't blow it, mate, there's a Test century here.' 'Thanks Huss,' I thought. But when I got past 100 I thought, 'anything will do now.' So on the start of the third morning, at 102 overnight, I thought I'd better up the ante. I played a few shots, they spread the field, I carried on nicking the singles and their bowlers got tired. There were no nerves as I just stuck to what I was doing but I must confess I did start ticking off the legends as I passed them. The first was when I got to 154. I thought, 'hang about, Mark Waugh's Test best was 153, so bye, Mark.' Then I was waving them off thick and fast. It was surreal, totally surreal, especially the 200 bit."
It threatened to go from surreal to puerile as the whisper went around that Gillespie had vowed, in the event of a double, to run around the oval naked.
"I'll tell you what happened there. At the end of the second day I was having some treatment from our masseuse, Lucy, and she said, 'Dizzy, what if you get to 200 tomorrow?' I said, 'Luce, that's not going to happen and if I do, I'll do a nude lap.' It was a joke, a way of showing how unlikely it was and I didn't think anything more of it. But then at lunch the next day, when I was on 186, the boys started talking about Matty Hayden saying I was going to do a nude lap if I got there. I thought 'shit, I'd forgotten about that', and looked over at Lucy and she was giggling herself silly. In the end I said I was in a Muslim country and I'd have offended someone, most people probably. Anyway, that was my excuse. It was all very bizarre."
Gillespie shook his head as he said it, still unable to take it all in. What makes the absorption of his own feat even more difficult is the theory that he is now an all-rounder, right up there with Ian Botham and Wasim Akram as the only Test players with a double century and more than 250 wickets to their names.
"I have never thought of myself as an all-rounder and still won't be. The term for me is 'handy tail-ender', just a bloke down the bottom of the order who can hang around for a while. I know the four days I hung around for last week makes that sounds crazy but I just don't see myself as that. I'm a quickie, pure and simple."
Except Gillespie is not simple. Nothing like it. If it is true that every man drags at least one contradiction around after him then Gillespie has a chain to rival Jacob Marley's. There is the heavy metal freak into jazz, the fist-pumping wild boy as shy as they come, the beer monster with a collection of fine wines, the player with the mullet trademark sporting a short back and sides. But, most paradoxically of all, there is the Aussie cricketer who is labelled a loser. He bristles as you even go near the subject.
"One bad tour and all of a sudden it's all over, is it? There were actually times during the Ashes when I thought I bowled really well, just a couple of dropped catches there and a few nicks that went through the slips there. I was disappointed because I wasn't contributing to the team, but it was fair enough that I got dropped. That's what happens in cricket, form's temporary. Just got to get on with it." But isn't that almost impossible when you are coming for the sort of ridicule Gillespie suffered from the England fans and when former players are lining up for a pop? " Didn't bother me, mate." Not even when Bob Willis wrote you off as a "36-year-old in a 30-year-old's body"? "Nope. Because when you have a big nose, a goatee and a mullet you get used to copping a bit of grief. But I tell you there was one time during it all when I did get narked. It was at Old Trafford and there I was out on the boundary and this bloke, probably in his thirties, was with his 10-year-old kid and just giving me the worst abuse imaginable.
"It was 'you effing c' this, 'you effing w' that, 'you effing things I hadn't even heard of'. I mean, it was relentless. But I just thought, 'ignore him, he's paid his money, let him carry on doing that in front of his own kid and all the other young 'uns around him.' Must have made him feel really big.
"But then after 10 minutes or so he had the gall to lean over the fence and say 'just sign this will ya?' Not 'please' or anything. I said, 'You're kidding, right? Show some respect first, to your own kid, if nobody else.' So he carried on with the 'you effing c'. Unbelievable. But, on the whole, your fans aren't like that. They do it with a bit of humour. As Australians we usually find we get the nasty stuff in South Africa or New Zealand. No, the English boys are all right."
In fact, they might even have assisted in the reinvention of Dizzy, nicknamed after the jazz trumpeter but alas with nobody willing to blow his trumpet. "On the plane home it was depressing as we knew changes were going to be made. We could just tell. Although the way some of the media reacted it was like we'd lost 5-0, by an innings each game. In truth, it was a very close series, swung on a few moments and the boys knew that they were going to have another crack at the Poms very soon. But I'm not the type of person to go to bed and have sleepless nights waiting for my revenge. And why should I be? I've been on five Ashes-winning teams. But even so, I guessed I'd be out of the Test picture for at least a while.
"So, I went back home did a little bit of technical stuff, not reinventing the wheel or anything, just working at generating a bit more energy at the crease. But it paid off because since then I've had some of the most enjoyable cricket of my life, playing for South Australia. I've not been taking anything too seriously."
He is loath to confess that the Ashes experience was the catalyst in this giddying change of perspective, but it is hard to accept this denial even when he offers a life-changing moment as proof. "It was a few months ago, just after my wife had our baby boy, Jackson. I saw him in his crib, picked him up and just thought, 'shit, if I don't play another game of cricket, then it won't kill me.' Now if somebody had said to me a few years ago I wouldn't have been able to live. God, without cricket I'd have been gone. Yeah, my whole attitude to the game has changed."
If that sounds as if Yorkshire haverecruited someone happy to settle into the tailspin towards retirement, they have not. Gillespie still has his ambitions. "Of course I want to be back for Australia, for the Ashes at the end of the year and all that, but I have to be realistic. I'm way down the pecking order now. There's Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Stuart Clark, Shaun Tait, Michael Kasprowicz - all, in my view, ahead of me. I just have to bide my time and take a lot of wickets for Yorkshire and I'm determined to enjoy it, to learn from it and have a life experience. I have my best Test figures here at Headingley [7 for 37 in 1997] and can't wait to bowl again down that hill. Boof [Darren Lehmann] told me I'd love it here, the passion and everything and this is now where my loyalties lie.
"The only thing I hope is they don't ask me to play any 20-20 cricket. I'm here as a professional, so I will if I'm required to, but if there's any chance not to I'll grab it. I hate it, it's a lottery and I don't think it should even be called cricket. They should just call it 20-20. Commercially it's good for the sport I suppose, but I'm not going to pretend I like it just because of that. To me it does not even resemble the game of cricket." The few thrill-seekers in Yorkshire may raise their eyebrows, but in truth they should be relieved that the defiant spirit is still intact of the 21-year-old who burst on to these islands a decade ago as the first man of Aborigine descent to play for Australia. The mullet might have gone, whipped off in that post-Ashes makeover, but the individual remains.
"You know, back then I looked tough but I was as soft as butter, I really was. Sure, I was into the hard rock, had ear-rings in both ears, wore the white flannelette with the black T-Shirt underneath, but I've just matured as everyone does. I listen to different music now - although I do still jam on the Van Halen occasionally - like wine, have a different haircut, wear different clothes. But I still don't feel I have anything to prove. I just want to enjoy it. I'm only 31, age is on my side. May get back in the Australia squad, may not. May cop a bit of grief over here, may not. Shit happens in cricket. That's the way it is. You just got to get back on your horse."
With that his head was back in the nose bag. "Good tucker, though, mate. So far, so good."Reuse content