Adam Gilchrist is, with good reason, rated by many as the most revolutionary player of the 21st century. Before his lusty swing came along to deposit bowlers from all over the world deep into the stands, the position of wicket keeper had been the position that harked back to the games roots.
Batsman had learnt to hit the ball harder and further, and their scores got larger and larger. Fast bowlers went from underarm lobs to viscous bouncers. Spinners added more and more mystery deliveries to their repertoire, from the doosra to the zooter. Meanwhile, wicket keepers were expected to average around 30, occasionally make a battling hundred, and gobble up everything behind the stumps, just as they always had done.
Then Gilchrist turned the game on its head.
Suddenly, having Australia five down no longer meant the hard work had been done. Ignoring the fact that he was an above-average wicket keeper, Gilchrist was one of the best batsmen in the world. On the rare occasion that the Australia top 6 failed, he would invariably change the game in a session with a counter-attacking hundred. God forbid any bowling attack that faced him coming to the crease with the score already above 300.
However, whether he was a genuine revolutionary or a one off freak remains to be seen.
Did Gilchrist really change the game, or did we just witness a player that we will never see the likes of again? It would seem from performances by other keepers since he burst onto the scene that it was the latter.
England are the most obvious example of this. Since the last Ashes series, they have tried and discarded Geraint Jones, Chris Read, Matt Prior and Tim Ambrose. At various times, James Foster, Stephen Davies, Jonathan Batty and Nic Pothas have also been championed. All seem to have a major flaw, which has led to a revolving door policy.
Ten years ago, Read would have undoubtedly been the most likely option. Post-Gilchrist, Prior has seemed to be the favoured choice.
Pakistan have gone the other way. Kamran Akmal has been selected consistently for nigh on five years, despite the fact he has often seemed out of his depth. Since he exploded onto the scene in 2004/05, both facets of his game have gone backwards at an alarming rate.
However, despite not being good enough with the gloves to be a specialist keeper, nor a good enough batsman to be considered “front line”, he continues to play.
Away from these two extremes, who is the most likely to prove that the career of Gilchrist was not a one off? MS Dhoni is the most obvious choice. As a young man, Dhoni had an infuriating tendency to throw his wicket away. Maturity has made him a different beast, but has also brought him extra responsibility.
As good as Dhoni can be, the fact remains that Gilchrist never had to contend with captaincy. We may never know how good an unhindered Dhoni would have been.
Another player to have been given a long run is Brendon McCullum. He shows promise, but is another who does not make the most of his starts. Adam Gilchrist made 50’s, then made sure he turned them into hundreds. McCullum has not shown that he can do this.
Ironically, the team with the longest standing wicket keeper is the team with the “old style” wicket keeper. Mark Boucher has been a mainstay of the South Africa side, and is without doubt a wicket keeper first and batsman second. Not only that, over his long run he has become a decent number seven, capable of either holding an end up or counter-attacking with the tail.
So, has Gilchrist actually changed the game? Certainly the perception of what is required of a wicket keeper has, but this does not mean that the players are necessarily able to do it.
Flaws are being found with the keeper-batsman, not least the fact that more chance are going down behind the stumps than ever.
The pressure is then on the player to make up for these mistakes with runs. This pressure has claimed the career of more than on player in recent times. In 10 years' time, it is quite possible that teams will go back to picking wicket keepers whose first job is to back up the bowlers. If this is the case, Gilchrist may just be even better than he is already given credit for.
No player will have the impact on the game that WG Grace did, nor the brilliance of Bradman, or the all round genius of Sobers. Perhaps Gilchrist will soon join that elite group.
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