Malaysian mayhem the birth of the Gilly legend

09 October 2017
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A date with the Super Eights in the unlikely locale of Kuala Lumpur proved a crucial moment in the evolution of one of the all-time greats

About the Writer:

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.

If, as former Australia skipper Michael Clarke theorised recently, some of cricket's contemporary talents might not have emerged but for the arrival of the Twenty20 format then an even more innovative derivation might well claim responsibility for the rise of Adam Gilchrist.

It was through the little-known cricket vehicle of Super Eights in the even less-recognised cricket city of Kuala Lumpur when the then 24-year-old Gilchrist (or 'Gilcrest' as he is listed in an online record of the tournament) came to the notice of no less judges than ex-Test heroes Greg Chappell and Ian Healy.

Chappell had devised the Super Eights concept in the mid-1990s and the Australian Cricket Board (now Cricket Australia) saw it as a potentially lucrative television product that could drive increased global exposure and a revenue source for those domestic cricketers not regularly competing at international level.

The rules included eight-per-side teams that each faced 14 overs, with all players (except wicketkeeper) to bowl a minimum of one over and maximum of three, and batters earning eight runs for every strike that cleared the boundary before being compulsorily retired upon reaching 50.

To help sell the concept in 1996, the ACB staged one of several showpiece events in the Malaysian capital that featured an Australia (led by Mark Taylor) and an Australia A (captained by Darren Lehmann) team.

Australia's best of the Super8

The competition also showcased an Invitational XI that Allan Border led alongside other Test names including Sri Lanka's Aravinda de Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya and Chaminda Vaas, as well as Lee Germon's New Zealand, India led by Kiran More and South Africa under allrounder Eric Simons.

Gilchrist, who had announced himself as a rising star by belting 189 from 187 balls for Western Australia in the Sheffield Shield final months earlier, was the keeper in an Australia A line-up that also included Matthew Hayden, Craig McDermott and Michael Kasprowicz.

And it was in the final between Australia A and South Africa, where Gilchrist smashed his way to 51 (retired) from 14 deliveries with four maximums worth eight runs apiece, that the clean-hitting prowess he had shown in the Shield play-off was laid bare in its poetic brutality.

Gilchrist returned to Malaysia in 1998 for the Commonwealth Games // Getty
Gilchrist returned to Malaysia in 1998 for the Commonwealth Games // Getty

Chappell recalls the savagery that Gilchrist inflicted upon South Africa's left-arm seamer Gary Gilder whose two-over return of 2-28 looked almost tidy alongside teammate (and future Test quick) Makhaya Ntini's figures of 2-0-37-0.

"It had rained for a week in the lead-up (to the three-day tournament in Kuala Lumpur) so they had to shift matches off the turf wicket onto a turf wicket covered by matting," Chappell recalled to recently.

"It was a smallish ground, and … (ex-Proteas Test spinner) Pat Symcox was fielding at mid-off and went over and spoke to the bowler, and you sort of knew what the message was – 'well let's see if he (Gilchrist) can play a bouncer'.

"So he's bowled him a good bouncer, Gilly's inside it and hit him onto the pavilion roof – but flat, it was a low-set, flat-top building with a terrace on top of it, so there were viewers up on the roof of this thing.

"It went about 10-feet high the whole way then smashed into the chairs.

"So Symcox has spoken to him again and must have said something like, 'mate, that might've been a lucky one – see if he can do it again'.

"Well the next one went twice as far.

"It went over the building, and I just thought 'wow, this kid can play'."

Gilchrist with his legendary predecessor, Ian Healy // Getty
Gilchrist with his legendary predecessor, Ian Healy // Getty

Healy, who had seen his senior Australia outfit – that also featured Mark Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Jason Gillespie and Michael Slater – fail to reach the play-off rounds after defeats to New Zealand and South Africa, reportedly arrived at a similar conclusion.

In recounting his memories of the Super Eights series in Malaysia, Gilchrist described it as a "Mickey Mouse kind of game" that was the latest in a series of derivations of the one-day format being rolled out by administrators and entrepreneurs to try and find a further abbreviated version for television fodder.

"Whatever its merits, (Super Eights) was a good format for me to go in down the order and have a hit," Gilchrist wrote in his autobiography 'True Colours'.

"These gimmicky tournaments can be so forgettable, and I've been one in recent years to question their worth.

"But there is always a cricketer, or a few cricketers, for whom these apparently meaningless jamborees form a crux in their careers.

"The Malaysian Super Eights were that for me.

"I showed the selectors more of what they'd seen in the Shield final, that I was a big hitter who could perhaps stretch the boundaries of what was thought possible in terms of scoring speed.

"Years later I was having lunch with a mutual friend who had asked Ian Healy when he had known I was going to take his place in the Australian team. Heals apparently said, quick as a flash, 'Super 8s, KL, '96."

Chappell, currently a member of the National Selection Panel and who previously served as an Australia selector following his retirement from Test cricket in 1984, also saw his vision of Super Eights played in Queensland during the southern winter of 1996, but it ultimately failed to meet its commercial goals.

Despite belief among some ACB administrators and influential media figures that the concept offered huge potential for television audiences, it recorded a loss of more than $A1 million in its maiden season and was shelved soon after.

Less than a decade later, Twenty20 cricket was introduced in England's domestic competition in 2003 and has since grown to become the dominant form of the game in terms of audience drawing power and financial returns.

Glorious Gilchrist

During Australia's ODI tour of India in late 2017, Clarke refuted suggestions that T20 cricket was cannibalising the Test format but he acknowledged that without the 20-over game it was possible that talents such as Australia vice-captain David Warner and India's Hardik Pandya might not have reached international level.

Gilchrist, who was part of the historic first T20 International played between Australia and New Zealand at Auckland in 2005, now sees the "Mickey Mouse" Super Eights innovation as part of cricket's evolution that has ushered in the current worldwide success of the 20-over game.

Gilchrist played in the first-ever T20 International // Getty
Gilchrist played in the first-ever T20 International // Getty

"Super Eights cricket played a significant part of me being identified by the Aussie selectors as potentially being the real deal," he told

"It was yet another modified version of the game.

"Cricket is great because it can mutate into different formats.

"There was a lot of trial and error with those modified versions of the game which never quite got it right.

"I think that's what T20 has been able to do.

"It hasn't compromised on the number of players, it hasn't compromised on the fundamentals of cricket.

"The Super Eights one was a great experiment, and I reckon I benefited hugely from that experience."

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