Advertisement

MAGELLAN ASHES 2017-18

Sliding doors: Gilly's WACA ton

12 December 2017
Our voices

Adam Gilchrist reflects on a serendipitous moment during his memorable Ashes century against England in Perth 11 years ago

About the Writer:
 @ARamseyCricket

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for cricket.com.au. 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.

It's not the most fanciful theory peddled by cricket conspiracists and revisionist historians that - but for the formation of a catching cordon in a Test match played four months earlier - the outcome of the 2007 ICC World Cup might have been drastically different.

That ODI tournament, played in the Caribbean, ended with Australia comfortably defeating Sri Lanka as night fell on Barbados to complete a third consecutive World Cup triumph which was built largely upon opener Adam Gilchrist's incandescent 149 from 104 balls faced.

But in a 'sliding doors' moment that offers no solace to Sri Lanka's besieged bowlers or their still-shellshocked fans, Gilchrist has acknowledged that he quite likely would have terminated his international career if fortune had not visited him at the WACA Ground during the preceding Australian summer.

Current Aussie players rave about Gilly's WACA hundred

As has been extensively documented previously, despite the euphoria that accompanied Australia's redemptive Ashes whitewash of 2006-07 Gilchrist had endured a lean run with the bat leading into the third Test in front of fans from his adopted home city of Perth.

After being tormented by the recurring vision of England allrounder Andrew Flintoff dominating him by bowling around the wicket throughout Australia's 2005 Ashes defeat in the UK, Gilchrist pocketed a duck in the first Test of the return bout in Brisbane in 2006 and was soon eyeing retirement.

Another scoreless innings on day one at the WACA led the pre-eminent wicketkeeper-batsman of his era to tell his wife, Mel, upon returning home that he had reached the conclusion to draw the curtain on his international career at the end of that Ashes campaign.

Mel, his long-time confidante and counsellor, challenged his assertion on the basis she sensed Gilchrist was "sulking" after his first-ball duck at the WACA, but when he again walked to the wicket on a stiflingly hot Perth afternoon two days later, the Australia vice-captain remained unconvinced.

Gilchrist celebrates his record-breaking century in Perth // Getty
Gilchrist celebrates his record-breaking century in Perth // Getty

In keeping with his tortured recent history, Gilchrist was immediately confronted by Flintoff coming at him from around the wicket and the third delivery he faced from the then England captain took the edge of the Australian's angled bat and flew at catching height in the region of gully.

The fact that Australia's score had passed 350 and their lead in the Test that already loomed as the Ashes decider was nearing 400 meant Flintoff had deployed some of those catchers he would normally have stationed behind the wicket into run-saving positions in the baking outfield.

Consequently, the edge that drew a sharp intake of the hot summer air from the expectant crowd, and caused a momentary flash of panic from the anxious batter, pitched harmlessly in unoccupied territory and rolled across the boundary rope at third man unimpeded.

Had it been instead accepted at head height by a fielder waiting in a gully position, and a pair of ducks inked against his name for the first time in Tests on Australian soil, Gilchrist admits it's almost certain he would have retired after the campaign's final Test in Sydney.

Gilly's secret to smashing sixes

"If I’d been dismissed for nought and walked off, I probably would’ve told everyone I was done," Gilchrist told cricket.com.au.

"I remember pushing out and getting a big, thick edge through what should’ve been the gully position and no one was there and it went away for four.

"I thought 'wow that’s amazing, how lucky I was to get away with that' and it got me off the mark.

"Next ball was a similar delivery and I actually got up and played a really nice back foot punch through the covers, right out of the middle of the bat.

"Very quickly I realised what a fine line it is."

Even if that catch had gone to hand and Gilchrist had walked away from Test cricket alongside teammates Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer at series end, it's highly likely he would have continued in ODI colours for the World Cup that was to follow.

Gilchrist reflects on his Test debut at the Gabba

When he finally confirmed his departure from Test cricket at the conclusion of the following Test summer in 2008, Gilchrist maintained his role as opener and keeper for Australia's 10-match ODI tri-series marathon against India and Sri Lanka.

However, it was the joy of batting that Gilchrist rediscovered after that near miss against England at the WACA which proved as crucial to his blazing World Cup Final cameo as did his decision to forestall his international retirement.

On that Saturday afternoon at the WACA, Gilchrist freed his mind and then his arms as he went after England spinner Monty Panesar (who was responsible for Gilchrist's golden duck in the first innings) and then other members of the tourists' impotent bowling attack, including his former tormentor Flintoff.

Flintoff, Gilchrist's one-time tormentor, had no answer in Perth // Getty
Flintoff, Gilchrist's one-time tormentor, had no answer in Perth // Getty

That memorable knock, which remains the fastest century scored in Ashes Tests (from 57 balls) and contained 12 fours and four sixes, in itself was the product of serendipity and mixed messaging.

Gilchrist had reached 32 from a comparatively conservative 25 balls faced when drinks were taken during the enervating final session, at which point he and his batting partner Michael Clarke asked 12th man Mitchell Johnson to quiz skipper Ricky Ponting whether he was planning a pre-stumps declaration.

To save Johnson having to relay that message on foot in the heat, they advised a simple thumbs-up (chase quick runs as a declaration looms) or thumbs-down (keep wickets intact and bat out the day) from the dressing room to confirm the plan.

Gilchrist goes on the attack at the WACA Ground // Getty
Gilchrist goes on the attack at the WACA Ground // Getty

Both batsmen claim they distinctly saw an upraised thumb from within the inner sanctum, and promptly carved 107 runs from the next 10 overs – 70 of them scored by Gilchrist – before Ponting called them in.

The Australia captain maintains to this day, however, that his strategy (which was signalled to the pair in the middle) was to keep batting until stumps if possible, and the source of the legendary miscommunication that ensued remains unknown.

While his unbeaten century came from one delivery more than ex-West Indies skipper Viv Richards' then record for the fastest Test hundred (from 56 balls faced) – since reduced to 54 by New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum's in 2016 – it instantly enlivened Gilchrist's passion for the game.

Ponting and Gilchrist celebrate Australia's series-clinching win // Getty
Ponting and Gilchrist celebrate Australia's series-clinching win // Getty

"People ask whether that was my best innings or my favourite innings, but it’s probably neither of those," Gilchrist recalled.

"It was certainly the most fun innings I’ve had in Test cricket.

"It reminded me of why I started playing the game, at a time when I was just doubting myself a little bit.

"It allowed me to clear away all of the peripheral stuff and remember why you play the game.

"It allowed me to launch in to another 12-18 months of cricket that I might never have had."

Gilchrist used that landmark WACA century as a reference point when he found himself entering the World Cup Final against Sri Lanka on the back of a similarly lean run of results from preceding matches.

Gilchrist launches one at Kensington Oval in Barbados // Getty
Gilchrist launches one at Kensington Oval in Barbados // Getty

Having reached 50 just once throughout the showpiece tournament – an undefeated 59 in Australia's quick-fire pursuit of Bangladesh's 105 in a rain-plagued fixture – Gilchrist then returned scores of 1 and 1 in the matches immediately prior to the play-off.

It was the recollection of how he had turned it around in Perth as much as the squash ball he secreted within his left batting glove (to stop him 'strangling' the bat handle with his bottom hand) that enabled him to play such a destructive innings on the game's biggest stage.

At a time when, but for that moment of priceless luck at the WACA months earlier, Gilchrist might otherwise have been settling into post-cricket life.

2017-18 International Fixtures

Magellan Ashes Series

Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.

England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.

First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard

Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Scorecard

Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Tickets

Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Tickets

Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Tickets

Gillette ODI Series v England

First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets

Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets

Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets

Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets

Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets

Prime Minister's XI

PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets

Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series

First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets

Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets

Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets

Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14

Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16

Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18

Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21

Top Stories



Inauguration of Pope a blessing for Australia


Maddo shines bright as stars come out


Proteas ponder fifth seamer in Jo'Burg


Sutherland happy with player communication