@Ben_Wisden 3 minute read
Ben Gardner looks back on Adam Gilchrist’s 149* against Pakistan, No.4 in Wisden’s Test innings of the 1990s.
No.4: Adam Gilchrist, 149* (158 balls)
Australia v Pakistan, 2nd Test
Bellerive Oval, Hobart
November 18-22, 1999
Pakistan and the cricketing world already knew all about Adam Gilchrist; just that year, he’d smashed a 33-ball fifty in a World Cup final against Wasim Akram’s side. But the great Ian Healy had made him wait for a Test debut, and the longest format had never seen a batsman so attacking. The doubters must have been there, and they would have pounced on any sign of weakness. In just his second Test match, the man who would go on to redefine the role of the wicketkeeper-batsman played an innings of such daring, dashing brilliance, that even the most cynical of pundits would have been swayed.
A rapid 81 in his maiden knock had gone some way to showing he could make the step up, but with Australia having built a platform of 342-5 by the time he entered, he couldn’t have asked for a more comfortable introduction. The second innings at Hobart was exactly the opposite. The Aussies were 126-5 when Gilchrist came in, victory still 243 runs away. The bowling attack, Wasim, Waqar, Shoaib and Saqlain, could hardly have been more primed for taking advantage of a fifth day pitch. Three to aim at the stumps or your head and exploit any uneven bounce. One to aim at the sizeable footmarks and test your technique.
It was Saqlain who Gilchrist took down first, a succession of tone-setting sweeps leading to some panicked full tosses and a rejig of the field, and then he and Justin Langer set about building a match-defining double-century stand.
There was an element of fortune about the eventual result. A vociferous caught-behind appeal off Justin Langer was turned down, with the future Elite Honesty advocate blaming a “clicky bat handle” for the incriminating noise, before years later admitting “Straight up, I smashed it”. But Gilchrist was flawless. Langer was 35 when Gilchrist entered, and only had 81 when the No.7 reached his hundred. The calibre of the attack, the dangers of the surface, the precariousness of the match situation, all were rendered moot in a frenzy of hard running and brash strokeplay, with Gilly’s second fifty coming off just 36 balls.
Langer graciously departed a hit away from victory, leaving the winning moment to be Gilchrist’s and Gilchrist’s alone. A star had been born, and all of a sudden, Australia had turned from merely being the best team into the world to becoming arguably the greatest side of all time. Gilchrist’s debut was the second of 16 straight Test wins, a world record streak only ended by another all-timer of a knock in Kolkata.
Another streak had begun too, with Pakistan having now gone 25 years and 14 consecutive Tests since their last non-defeat in Australia. There have been other heartbreaks in that time, with the toughest to take a 39-run defeat in a 2016 Brisbane day-nighter when Asad Shafiq’s heroics fell just short, and a 36-run defeat at Sydney in 2010, lit up by a Hussey epic but tainted by a string of hard-to-stomach drops and what would unfold at Lord’s later that year.
But they have never been so close and yet felt so far, with victory a wicket and a galaxy away, the man standing in their way a player just embarking on one of the great careers but already at the peak of his powers. Straight up, Gilly smashed it.