Goodboy Gilly!

The winter afternoon was a cricketer’s delight. The sun was dulling the eyelids of a half-sleepy audience with an even drone of light, and VVS Laxman was firmly anchored at the docks of another century. Time, in Adelaide, was resting like the sea.

Moment chose a rising delivery in the corridors of Laxman’s uncertainty, and it flew from the outer edge like an arching arrow hitting the bull’s eye at the centre of his gloved palms. Then Greek tragedy happened…

The easiest of lollipops was dropped. The ball bounced into ignominy. Laxman survived the guillotine. Faces fell. Hubris fell like a leaf in autumn. Hayden, the best of pals and a warm gentleman, gave a reassuring understanding glance and quickly passed over it. Gilchrist had moved into conclusion.

                                          * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I remember Adam Gilchrist first as a sunny human being, and then, the greatest number-seven wicketkeeper-batsman. I have attached with this personal memory, a recollection of his public persona in images. They show him in different lights: as a father and husband, as a man stretching himself to bring out his best, a man relishing his success by sharing it with all those who are willing to shower love, a pose that history books will exalt in his memory, and as a rare captain and a support-mate to his fellow-sailors.

As an avid cricket-loving kid, I would sit in passive delight staring at the machine that hurled a thousand bouncing images per second at me; and I sat transfixed in meditation over the relics of my heroes, even in a comparatively pointless benefit match. There was once such a pointless but entertaining match between India (led by Jadeja) and the Rest of the World (led by Gilly). Gilly’s side won the close match, as if it were scripted by destiny to be a close encounter; Gilly won a man-of-the-match for himself, too. The match was for the financially hard-pushed Balwinder Singh Sandhu (of the banana inswinger fame, that got Gordon Greelidge in 1983). All the awardees bestowed their honors as nazaraanein over beloved Ballu Paaji. Gilly, in the climax, stammering over Paaji’s name, and with his watery eyes full of humility, conferred the honors beaming in his Australian Pride. It was a rare flicker of a candle that made our dark hearts a little bit larger lit. I seem to think the time of this episode of cricketing trivia happened, fatefully, during the festive season of Diwali.

A spectre is haunting India — the spectre of fascism. All the powers of old India have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Priests and Politicians, and the more attention they get, the stronger they become Their’s is a unity baptised by hatred. The fascist cricket-audience of India drags their irascible nationalism even into this noble game, making the display of strength of character, a mockery of collective pride. They devour the form, siphoning the substance through their rectal systems; regurgitating their collective vomit on sanctity and primal right. They see in the enemy a monster, a beast, and not a worthy opponent who works as hard, and is as talented to exalt the name of cricket. It took me some time to begin to learn to see men in their true light, against the backdrop of gray. Greatness has weaknesses, and, it earns them.

Gilly was never the best wicket-keeper; his acrobatics shied at the name of Rod Marsh, his alacrity at Healy’s. He was neither the best batsman. Comparisons were contemporaries like Sangakkara and Boucher were not always favorable. But he was, arguably, the greatest at number-seven. He would always find a place there. He would come at six-down and hammer down a century in the minute breath of 50-60 odd balls to change the course of the game. Often, when Australia were made to succumb to five-down, the temper of the game would begin to split at his arrival, like the leitmotif of a symphony which desires a mood change. And it was often Gilly’s conducting of the music that made it an aria or a dirge. When India, akin an historical metaphor, crushed Australia’s alexanderesque ride of victory, Gilly’s contribution was worthy of being understood: They won the first Test where Gilly got 122; but they lost the rest, with Gilly making binary scores, including a pair.

Gilly hit the best of sixes: towering, clean like an eagle’s mount, picturesque as mountains. They arched like prayers, like rainbows, like promises. He hit too many of them, too. A century of them, the most. It was in his nature to see the ball as an object of abject destitution, to be punished into good length, and disciplined into the proper line. It was this arrogance that was his Achilles’ Heel. His passion to take a swim in wild boisterous waters wailing like sirens, asking him to drown into oblivion, challenging him to match his prowess with moving matter and the idiosyncrasies of the whirling winds.
He fell to the temptations wickedly placed by wise bowlers, who could lure him into giving in to desire: artists like Bhajji(!), Murali, who made bunnies of him. But he never let his batting affect his wicket-keeping; it was maintained at its constant uptight tone. Standing up to Waugh, the many-learned; Brett Lee, the Poison Wind; and Shane Warne, the wizard of spincraft, must have pushed him into the deep recesses of human psychology, I conjecture. There are many today who share his weakness, without first equaling his capacity for wonder. But Gilly, even then, knew that the iceberg of greatness doesn’t have a sharp decline into the abyss; it melts gradually like a river into an ocean, like an evening blends inside a night.

Gilly was never shy of praising the best in others. When Australia succumbed to India’s young unleashed force in T20 World Cup, Gilly was captured by Yuvraj Singh’s overwhelming knock. In a game that was tailormade to his style of interpreting cricket, to say such a thing without jealousy indicates the mark of a gentleman.

Gilly had insights too, which only he could bring to expression. He once said: When a ball’s been hit for a six, everyone knows it will transcend the boundaries. Before a ball is hit, only the hitter knows it. And that feeling is special. It is trance.

And only Gilly could advise youngsters to watch the ball in that moment of extreme passion, to judge it well before punishing it. Extremes are too hard to comprehend at once, but by thus recpecting the game, they bring fiction alive when they actually commit the carnal act of hitting a six.

Gilly lost his confidence a bit when he dropped Laxman in the Adelaide Test. He knew it was time to walk into the aboriginal sunset.

Before Gilly hanged his Elven boots, he had amassed over 5000 runs at a rate of 96 per centum. He had a century of sixers. Most dismissals as wicket-keeper. World Cup honors. Records can be broken, honors may be replaced, gratitudes forgotten, alas.

Adam Gilchrist: You showed tremendous courage and plenty of sunny spirit — whether you walked away when Umpires misjudged, or whether you made good use of your mother’s advice on your technique — and made an impact of your sun-filled mischievous being on the game. You added an indelible signature to the diary which records the changing ways the game is played. You shall be remembered for fueling the number-seven position in the Australian battle-engine with the wisdom, courage, and talent it deserved after Richie Benaud played for Australia; like Kapil Dev did for India. Thank you for believing in cricket. You are always welcome in India where ye dil maange more.


~ by Bombadil on February 8, 2008.

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