Gilchrist hangs up his bat and gloves after changing game forever

Like Warne, Australia's all-round talisman was true original
  • @stephenbrenkley

The most eloquent tribute to the effect Adam Gilchrist had on cricket is that everybody else wanted somebody exactly like him in their team. They were dreaming, of course.

There had never been a wicketkeeper-batsman like Gilchrist and maybe there never will be again. But the search will go on, as it will continue for the next Shane Warne and for the next Don Bradman. In the latter case the quest has already endured for 60 years without coming close to reaching fruition.

The others might stretch into infinity as well. If Gilchrist was not the best wicketkeeper in history nor the best batsman, he irrevocably transformed the nature of the dual roles.

When Gilchrist announced his retirement yesterday, probably worn down by Australia's oppressive imminent schedule, it was appropriate he did so as a multiple world record-holder. He had more victims than any other keeper (414 in Tests, 454 in one-day internationals) in both forms of the game.

Similarly, he has scored more runs, and comfortably. With 5,556 before his last Test in Adelaide, he had scored in excess of 1,000 more than any other keeper, and with 9,088 in one-dayers he was almost 4,000 ahead of the man in second place. But it was not simply the amount, of course, it was the manner. He altered games with the irrepressible power of his bat. His approach was fearless and he was sometimes impossible to bowl at.

"He was something special, obviously, and although it's always difficult to compare different generations he was the best I have seen," said one of his contemporaries, Andy Flower, himself no mean keeper-batsman, though of a different hue. (Flower was the only regular keeper to have a higher Test batting average). "He was a good wicketkeeper, no doubt about that, and could have held his own at that. But it was mostly because of the way he batted. All the other sides were wary of him."

There are countless examples of Gilchrist's potency, the more breathtaking because it was contained in such a restrained, measured and modest personality. He could hit the ball to anywhere from anywhere. He combined timing, strength, placement and perhaps above all the willingness to fail. Of course he took risks, but when he was going at full, blistering pelt it seemed entirely risk-free.

After his international one-day debut in 1996 it tookAustralia a while to promote him to the Test team and he made an instant, indelible mark. At Hobart in his second match in late 1998 – he had made 81 in his first innings at Brisbane – he went to the wicket with Australia at 126 for 5, needing 369 to beat Pakistan. He and Justin Langer put on 243 for the sixth wicket and he scored 149 not out from 163 balls. At a strike-rate of 91 it was slightly above the rate he would finish with. It was stunning.

Gilchrist played two utterly disdainful innings against England. At Sydney in the final of a triangular tournament in 2003, England cocked up again and were all out for 117. Australia knocked them off from 74 balls, Gilchrist scored 69 from 37. He did as he liked.

At Perth in 2006, England surrendered the Ashes. It was Gilchrist who finally, brutally, removed their despairing, slender grip. On the third afternoon in a blaze of straight hitting he bludgeoned 12 fours and four sixes in a century that took 58 balls. In a Test match.

His true sign-off was in the World Cup final last year. It was an unsatisfactory match, marred by rain and a messy climax, but the clean striking of Gilchrist (149 from 104 balls, 13 fours, eight sixes and utter dominance) will endure in the memory.

Gilchrist made much of his sportsmanship and meant well. He took the decision to walk as a batsman, and seemed to keep to it, but was not above the odd optimistic appeal. Still, he and Warne made a bizarre keeper-spinner pairing, the larrikin good-time boy and the earnest family man. You always wondered if Gilchrist and Warne had chats about the meaning of life.

He led Australia in four Tests, famously losing at Headingley after declaring and watching Mark Butcher play the innings of his life, but memorably clinching a series in India, the final frontier for Australia.

His successor will be Brad Haddin, and while he has waiteda long time he is not to be envied. There may be a final payday for Gilchrist in the Twenty20 Indian Premier League in April. But now, for Australia and everybody else, the forlorn search continues. The Holy Grail will be easier to come by.