Gilchrist in the hitting zone

The Ashes: Aussie disciple of the Steve Waugh creed brings deliberately structured mayhem to the lower orders
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was a shot to grace the summer. Any summer. Adam Gilchrist was on 99 in his first Ashes Test. Andrew Caddick steamed in with the intention of ensuring that the ball, the last of the over, could not be hit, thus denying the batsman a hundred and the strike at the other end.

Earlier in the match, Gilchrist had been stricken by nerves. Not now, not at this most nerve-racking of moments. He played a hunch. As Caddick ran in, his opponent decided that a high bouncer was almost certainly on its way and swiftly positioned himself accordingly.

Moving back in line with his stumps he raised his bat straight above his head and back-flipped the ball over the wicketkeeper's head. It went, first bounce for four. Gilchrist did not have the strike (for the moment, anyway) but he had his hundred all right. That shot at Edgbaston was the measure of the man, of an adventurous streak which runs through the entire Australian side.

"It wasn't planned until he started to run in," said Gilchrist. "I'm glad Caddie didn't try the reverse malarkey and bowl a yorker because there might have been stumps everywhere. A great moment for me."

Nor was it his first experiment with the shot. He played it, of all occasions, in his first Test innings against Shoaib Akhtar, who at that time was the fastest man alive bar none. "It was a similar situation, they were attempting to keep me off strike. I guess I've just put a bit of thought into it with having batted with the lower order which you quite often have to do when you're going in at number seven. At Edgbaston I just reckoned if I could get a bat to it I'd have a Test hundred."

Gilchrist is now the 5-2 favourite to be the leading runs scorer in the 2001 series, dramatically short odds considering that he bats so far down the order. But the spectacular 152 in Birmingham – he was rampant after that shot – and the 90 he made at Lord's when he was dropped four times suggest he is touched by stardust.

He waited a long time to play Test cricket because Ian Healy was the best wicketkeeper in the world, and there were suspicions that he might never play. But Healy's batting suddenly declined and Gilchirst was in. He made 81 on his debut, and a startling 149 not out in his second Test when the side were staring down both barrels at defeat against Pakistan in Hobart.

His gruelling, breathtaking partnership with Justin Langer took them to victory and confirmed Gilchrist as the genuine article. He looks now to be in the zone, the professional sportsman's favourite place. "I've had ups and downs in my Test career," he said. "I'm wary of talking about the zone because after scoring a hundred in India, at the team dinner the night before the Second Test, Steve Waugh asked me if I could address the team about being in the zone and what my thoughts were about it. I peeled off this magnificent talk for about 20 minutes.

"I surprised myself, I thought, 'This is really impressive'. In the Test I got a king pair and in the Third Test I got one and one. I don't talk about the zone any more." Like all players who are going places he learnt from that experience.

He referred to something Steve Waugh once told him. It is a habit of his to refer to things that Steve Waugh once told for him for perfectly obvious reasons. "One of the best pieces of advice among many that he's given me is just don't get too down when you're down and don't get too high when you're high." A platitude maybe but its simple virtue also reflects this great Australian team's determination to keep the game simple.

Without him quite saying so, it is clear that Waugh is something of a hero of Gilchrist's. He admires the captain's declaration earlier this summer that his side would play the game in the best possible spirit. "I certainly had a look at my game and what I say and do behind the stumps. It hasn't been a big effort required of me not to say anything, but when something has occurred to me I've just wondered why – why you would say that? The best way to say something to someone is to win the game."

But this relaxed fellow is aware that they could shoot themselves in the foot. Brett Lee had two fairly intemperate outbursts in the Lord's Test match and as Gilchrist said, if there are two more next time and three the time after fingers will start to be pointed.

Australia might know their worth but at 2-0 up with three to play they are taking nothing for granted. India saw to that. Australia were one up and forced India to follow on in the second match. India won that and then won the next match to take the series.

So while beating England 5-0 might be a goal, they are maintaining their respect for the opposition. As the Australians remember, and as the English should, the matches on paper have been drubbings, but out in the middle it has been much closer. In both matches England have had their opportunities.

"It isn't my way to talk about the opposition," said Gilchrist, "but we've had to work hard for those victories. They're not far off the mark and certainly not as far off the mark as the negativity surrounding them would suggest. I don't mean just the press but the public perception of them which is so low and yet only two and half months ago it was so high.

"Many of them have said how much they respect us and you've got to respect the opposition. But maybe they're beating it up too much. I remember Steve Waugh [that man again] and the way he took on the West Indies in the Eighties. He respected them like you wouldn't believe but I remember him bowling three bouncers in a row to Viv Richards, which you just didn't do. That was a massive statement from a young guy in a team who were being beaten. That doesn't give you an edge in changing the week before the next Test but it's an attitude thing."

Anybody who thinks for a moment that the Ashes are lower on the Australian pecking order than they once were should listen to Gilchrist. At the start of this tour he went around all his team-mates to ask them of their earliest memories. All had an answer.

Gilchrist's own most vivid memories are from when he was 17. Late, he knows, but while he can recall 1985 and 1986-87 he was in England for the first time in 1989 away from home for the first time. "It was probably the most developmental period of my life as well as my cricket," he said.

"I was playing in the Middlesex League with Richmond and Australia were winning the Ashes. Living in the country, we'd never seen much television coverage and I watched it mostly on television that summer. But somehow I felt part of the team."

Gilchrist has every intention of being part of the first Australian team to win seven successive Ashes series. Who, he points out, would want to be part of the team who gave up the Ashes after so long?

"I remember 1989 and what it did for me. There's somebody out there and I want to make a lasting impression on him this year." Five to two says he will.

Adam Gilchrist

Born: 14 Nov 1971, Bellingen, New South Wales

Teams: New South Wales, Western Australia, Australia

Test career: matches 19, innings 27, runs 1,236, highest score 152, average 53.73, strike rate 78.27, 100s 3, 50s 8. Catches 78

One-day international career: matches 119, innings 115, runs 3,848, highest score 154, average 34.98, strike rate 89.42, 100s 6, 50s 22. Catches 153

2001 tour to England: matches 4, innings 6, runs 451, highest score 152, average 112.75, 100s 2 50s 1 Catches 12, stumpings 2