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The Rediff Special
Australia's man Friday
May 04, 2005
Just a year since his Test debut, Adam Gilchrist donned the skipper's cap in the third Test against the West Indies in Adelaide, in 2000. He led Australia to a lucky 13th win in their amazing streak of 16 victories on the trot, after Steve Waugh opted out due to injury.
Shane Warne was caught in the throes of controversy and Ricky Ponting hadn't arrived when Gilchrist was thrust with the responsibility.
He described the victory as the "proudest moment of my career".
When Gilchrist moved from New South Wales to Western Australia for better prospects, he was often booed by the Perth crowd because he had kept out local lad Tim Zoehrer. But within a year of playing for Australia he grew to become the darling of cricket fans not only in his adopted state but also around the world.
People accepted him as Australia leader despite his un-Australian ways. As the Australian crowd started to get bored of their team's win-at-all-cost approach, Gilchrist's decision to walk when he knew he was out made a big impression. And rather than a crispy Australian sledge, batsmen are more likely to hear a sermon on fairness from the wicket-keeper batsman.
"It was a personal decision he made after he saw some batsmen blatantly standing their ground when they were out. He decided he would walk whether anyone else did or not," his father Stan had explained.
Gilchrist got opportunities to lead the side in one-off Tests against England (2001) and Sri Lanka (2004), but the high point was the series win against India in 2004.
Ricky Ponting injured his finger during the Champions Trophy game against England, and Gilchrist took over the quest to beat India in India after 35 years. He had donned the mantle reluctantly, but executed plans to perfection. Champagne flowed long after night had descended on the Vidarbha Cricket Association ground as Australia took an unassailable 2-0 lead after the third Test.
Gilchrist's tattered baggy green had another story to tell. He led the side well in the absence of Ponting, but stayed away from the limelight.
"It would've been the same even if Ponting was leading," was his modest assessment.
Waugh had made a name for his ruthlessness, and probably wouldn't have won half the matches he did if it wasn't for that. But in India Australia needed to be patient. The loss in Kolkata still haunted and Gilchrist proved to be the right man to keep the team's aggression under check. And even if he wasn't an astute tactician like Ponting, the 34-year-old carried out Australia's plan to the tee, something Ponting couldn't achieve in the last Test in Mumbai.
Australia are known to suffer the dead rubber syndrome, but once again it was their overconfidence that cost them the match.
Chasing a target of 107, they collapsed for 93 within one session of play. The wicket was treacherous, and that was more the reason to avoid reckless stroke-play.
Gilchrist, himself skeptical at the helm, may never be a full-time leader for Australia, but in the limited opportunities that he got, he's proved to be a diligent captain.