Gilchrist turns a survival course into a run feast

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The Independent Online

The first 49 runs were brisk, as they so often have been with Adam Gilchrist at the crease. Forty balls, to be precise. Aggressive cut shots, hard-hit drives as the bat swung through the line of the ball and the occasional streaky edge had kept the crowd entertained and suggested a continuing of the resurgence in form that started in the Second Test in Adelaide.

Few expected what happened next, though. Sir Viv Richards' fastest Test century in terms of balls faced had not been seriously threatened at any time since he contemptuously smashed the England bowlers all over Antigua in 1985-86. The master blaster took just 56 balls to reach three figures, and of the swashbucklers that had come and gone since, Gilchrist was one of the very few who could, maybe, on a perfect day, attempt it - if he knew about it, that is.

"No, I've never known what the fastest Test century is, it's a bit more synonymous with one- day cricket, those sort of records," he explained afterwards. "I didn't walk out there with anything in mind other than survival, setting up an innings and supporting Pup [Michael Clarke].

"It was probably once I got to 50 and had that big over off Panesar. There was a decent breeze, we had the momentum and I made the decision myself that I really wanted to attack him, and then we threw the question back to the dressing room - did we want to try and have a look at them tonight? We read it as a yes, apparently it was a no."

So the second-fastest recorded century in Test cricket is 57 balls, and partly because of a breakdown in communication.

That one over from Monty Panesar was indeed a catalyst. It was the 71st of the day, there was a long-on, a scout on the midwicket boundary and a long-off. The second ball was driven slightly wide of long-off for two and the crowd roared as their local boy Gilchrist saluted them, the half-century a relief for a man who had been struggling for runs. What then followed was as brutal and calculated a legal assault as has been witnessed on a cricket field. One step down the pitch and the third ball was hit high over long-on into the stands. Gilchrist knew it was safe as he turned and signalled for new sweatbands or gloves even as the ball flew in the direction of the fielder. The next ball was another step down the pitch and the same long swing of the bat, the result similar in score if slightly squarer in direction.

Panesar headed over to Andrew Flintoff for a tactical discussion as the ball was retrieved. The challenge had been thrown down. The fifth ball was flatter and quicker, a natural reaction from the bowler, but Gilchrist, again advancing one step down the pitch, simply swatted at the top of the bounce for a four to midwicket.

Flintoff reinforced the area but Gilchrist ignored that for the final ball and once more hit high and handsome into the crowd to make it 24 runs in five balls.

The power was phenomenal. The Waca is not a small ground, yet Gilchrist reduced the game to a playground smash. Golfers talk of clubhead speed through the hitting zone. Gilchrist frees his arms so they can swing in a wide arc and he accelerates the bat at the ball. It is ferocious rather than elegant, bludgeon more than rapier. It is not slogging - it never has been with him - but simple clean hitting.

In this mood and form no bowler can contain him for long. Not Stephen Harmison, who was cut and driven; nor Matthew Hoggard, who was lifted over midwicket. Gilchrist was on 96 in 53 balls and 97 in 54. The 55th - and last chance for the record - was wide and full from Hoggard. "Shame I didn't have a tickle at it," lamented Gilchrist.