After a stellar career as Australia’s premier all-rounder for some ten years, Adam Gilchrist has retired from all forms of international cricket (except the ones that pay far more than he has ever been paid to play cricket before).
Yes, he was an great wicket-keeper, with over 400 Test dismissals. That said, standing behind the stumps with a pair of bright coloured gloves while Glen McGrath and Shane Warne were bowling meant that racking up great numbers of dismissals was only a matter of time.
What really made Gilly special was that he was a genuine all-rounder. These creatures are truly rare in the game of cricket – in any generation there are barely a handful of them. I define a true all-rounder as a player with the skill to be selected for either of their disciplines independently, and Gilchrist met this criteria for both batting and wicket-keeping. He could (even now) walk into any Test side in the world purely as a batsman (although at his age, he could well be a liability in the outfield). Andrew Flintoff (when fit) also meets this criteria, and would be selected both for his batting and bowling. Contrast this with Andrew Symonds – would he play for Australia purely on his bowling?
For several years as Australia remained at the zenith of world cricket, the team was blessed with a core of players at the top of world rankings: McGrath & Warne, Hayden & Langer. Having a disproportionate number of such players in a team is certainly a good thing.
However, having a true all-rounder in the team means you are effectively playing with twelve men, and that is an advantage that magnifies, and indeed far exceeds being overloaded with champion players.
How many times have a bowling team enjoyed some success in breaking through the top or middle order to get Australia to five wickets down for not quite enough? It’s a precarious position for any team, as only one recognized batsman is left and the tail can quickly collapse. And how many times has Gilchrist rescued the innings almost single-handedly with his fast scoring and aggressive stroke-play? In a matter of a session or less, a further hundred runs or more are on the board, and just like that, the match has turned. That is the impact of having an all-rounder in the team.
The all-rounder gives any team significantly more depth in both batting or bowling. Instead of playing four bowlers, you can play five. Or instead of six batsmen, you have seven. This extra depth means pressure can be maintained on the batting team because you have more front-line bowlers. Seen off the opening bowlers? Bad luck, you still have Flintoff to face. Got them five wickets down? The job isn’t nearly finished; Gilly has just come in.
You can always replace a batsman with a batsman, and a bowler with another bowler. Replacing one player who functioned as two is a lot harder. Of all the retirements in the last two years, that of Adam Gilchrist will have the greatest impact on team balance, and therefore its competitiveness.
Thank you for a great career Adam – you will be sorely missed.