Alex Massie

Adam Gilchrist

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So farewell, Adam Gilchrist. Norm marks his retirement with all the right links:

You may not know him from Adam, but I have to mark the retirement from Test cricket of one of the greats of the game. In the Adelaide Test, just concluded, he passed Mark Boucher to go to the top of the table for the most Test dismissals by a wicket-keeper. Soon afterwards he annouced that he was calling it a day. What a day it has been. Two of its highlights I saw with my own eyes: his 152 at Edgbaston in 2001 - during this innings he shared a partnership of 63 with Glenn McGrath, McGrath's contribution to which was a single run - and the second-fastest Test century of all time, at Perth in 2006. Adam Gilchrist, people - it's been a pleasure to see him play.

As always the numbers are a beginning, not an end. The numbers say Gilchrist was the finest* wicket-keeper-batsman of them all and the numbers make a pretty compelling case. But they can only make half the case for Gilchrist. In a cricketing age too often marked by incivility and dreary "professionalism" Gilchrst was a throwback to an earlier era in which the game itself was the thing. Results were important, for sure, but so too did how you achieved them. They way you played the game mattered.

Gilchrist was, of course, a great team man. His own records and milestones mattered to him. But he was also a cricketing cricketer. By which I mean that he had a sense of the sport's soul. Like Keith Miller, at his best Gilchrist played the game with a cavalier spirit. He played cricket with panache. Heck, unusually for this age - and for an Australian! - he was known to walk.

He was a cricketer against whom it was impossible to hold any partisan animus. Even on those occasions when Australia were 65/4 you knew the situation was not safe until Gilchrist, batting at 7, had been returned to the pavilion.

He was right to go now, rather than wait for his powers to decline further (in his final 16 tests he averaged a very useful but not majestic 34) or for the Australian selectors - a bunch not known for their sentimentality or romance - to wield a brutal axe.

From a narrow English perspective one must hope we never see his like again; from a cricketing point of view one must hope that one day we will again be privileged to see such a player. (Though it would be nice if he weren't wearing a baggy green cap while he thrilled us).

*Best ever? The only real rivals are, in my view, Les Ames and Clyde Walcott. Ames was a good enough batsman to score a hundred first class centuries fo Kent and England but his test record is inferior to Gilly's. More to the point he didn't have anything like the same seismic impact upon the sport.

As for Walcott? Well he was a good enough keeper to stand up to the stumps for 250 overs of Ramadhin and Valentine in the famous 1950 Lord's test. But he only kept in 15 test matches and his batting - career average 56! - was better after a troublesome back injury had removed him from the keepers' spot.

So, yes, even  cricketing reactionary who is prejudiced in favour of the past over the present can cheerfully acknowledge Adam Gilchrist as the best keeper-batsman of them all.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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