Jason Gillespie: Rough and ready
Jason Gillespie's appearance has often caused amusement but, he tells Angus Fraser, despite questions over his form, he expects to get the better of England once again
Tuesday 19 July 2005
Before going out to open the batting for England on Thursday the 28-year-old will probably listen to Joss Stone on his iPod, and the perfect end to a day would be visiting a smart restaurant in the West End with his wife and enjoying a rewarding glass of Burgundy.
Jason Gillespie, on the other hand, is a very different animal. The South Australian is the great-grandson of a Kamilaroi warrior and he takes great pride in being acknowledged as the first Aboriginal Test cricketer.
Gillespie does not look much like Strauss either. He currently models a bouncing mullet which flaps away in the wind as he runs into bowl. At the start of the tour he wore a headband, but he discarded this when his team-mates told him he looked like Bjorn Borg. On previous occasions his head has been shaven, and before the 1996 World Cup he donned a ponytail. And as one would expect, a man with such a look is not into soft, relaxing music.
"I listen to a bit of everything really," Gillespie admitted yesterday. "But I enjoy listening to hard rock. I used to listen to heavy metal, but not as much as people thought I did. I have always been a Metallica fan, and I still am. I also love Van Halen and Led Zeppelin. But I'll listen to anything really, except some of this rap stuff. I can't understand it."
And as for Joss Stone? "I gather she's a very fine musician," he said sarcastically. "But she would not be the first thing I put on my CD player."
Neither Gillespie nor Strauss had much to sing about at the end of the one-day series. Strauss scored 152 in one game, but that was against Bangladesh. He struggled against the Australians, but his future remains bright.
The same cannot be said for Gillespie, who, in some quarters, has already been written off as a spent force. The 30 year-old had a miserable time during the one-dayers and he will spend the build-up to the first Test at Lord's worrying whether he has done enough to keep his place.
At The Oval, the omens were not very good. Gillespie misfielded the first ball that came his way and dropped a simple catch off Glenn McGrath on the fine leg boundary before he was invited to bowl.
"It's never much fun when you drop a sitter like that," Gillespie reflected. "You know what the English crowds are like. They don't give you any grief, do they? I copped a fair bit of grief and thought, 'It can't get any worse than this'."
Gillespie's appearance has given the more raucous sections of the crowds plenty of ammunition on his three tours here. McGrath tends to play with the crowd, but Gillespie gives them nothing. "Each time I have come to England I have copped the caravan calls," he said smiling. "I had no idea what the crowd was going on about in 1997, and only realised they thought I looked like a gypsy in 2001. But even then I didn't find it that funny."
The flak on this tour will have been more cutting than on previous visits, but Gillespie is not despondent about his lack of wickets. His demeanour was not that of a man who is playing for his place in the side, but inside he must know he is under pressure to perform.
"I don't think my form is quite as bad as many are making out," he said. "It's been tough, but not as tough as everybody else seems to be thinking. Blokes in the media are paid for their opinions and are entitled to make criticisms. And as long as its valid it's fine by me.
"I didn't bowl as well as I would have liked in the one-dayers but they have finished now, and we will have to wait and see how the Test series pans out. As a bowler you go through phases. At times you don't bowl as well as you would have liked, but you also go through phases when you bowl well but have nothing to show for it. But you go with it. You keep believing in your preparation and your skills."
England has been a reasonably successful hunting ground for Gillespie. The 30 year-old earned his place on the honours board at Lord's in 2001 when he took 5 for 53, and at Headingley in 1997 he claimed career-best figures of 7 for 37. These performances will have helped him cope with the criticism he has received, but he will be a nervous man should Ricky Ponting throw him the ball on Thursday morning.
Gillespie knows that England's batsmen will be looking to get after him, in the hope they will further undermine his confidence. It is Gillespie's job to cope with this, and should he do so he could well pick up a bagful of wickets. If he does not we will witness more of the mid-pitch head-shaking and "double teapots" (both hands on his hips) we have so far seen.
But Gillespie is a tenacious fighter. He has recovered from several career-threatening injuries and he uncomplainingly bowls long spells in the hottest of conditions. He is popular with his team-mates, as was witnessed when he dropped Vaughan at The Oval.
At the end of Glenn McGrath's over four or five of the Australian team ran over to give him encouragement. Their actions brought derision from a partisan crowd but it worked Gillespie proceeded to bowl his best spell of the tour.
If Gillespie can regain the form that has made him one of the leading fast bowlers in the world since he made his Test debut in 1996, Australia will be hard to beat over the coming weeks. Brett Lee's pyrotechnics are likely to get him the new ball, and this will possibly bring an end to the third most successful opening bowling partnership in the history of Test cricket. When sharing the new ball Gillespie and McGrath have taken 376 Test wickets only Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram with 497, and Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, with 421, have taken more.
"I will be looking to take wickets when I run up and bowl on Thursday morning," he said. "I will be looking to put pressure on the England batters by getting them out of their comfort zone and by making them do things and play shots they don't necessarily want to. We have done it before and we can do it again. It's a question of patience, pressure and bowling in partnerships. If we do that we will be fine.
"Bowling in the same side as Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne means it is something of a struggle to take wickets. But I don't really worry about that. The team success is the most important thing. Our goal in every Test match is to take 20 wickets and if one guy takes 19 of them, then so be it. Not everybody can grab the glory. The idea is to do your bit. What is important is that we are winning games of cricket and that you are doing your job."
Once he has done his job, it is a safe bet that the way Gillespie relaxes off the pitch is another point of difference with Andrew Strauss. The Australian loves WWF wrestling. "It's good fun and it gets you away from reality for a little while," he said. "Some blokes like the soaps but here you see blokes belting each other up and chicks getting their kit off, so it is great entertainment."
"The Undertaker" is his favourite and England will be hoping that the symbolism is not too prophetic.
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