Monday, 29 June 2009

The end, and when it comes

You are Adam Gilchrist. For five and a half years, from 5 November 1999 until 26 March 2005, from the age of 27 until the age of 32, in 68 Test matches and 97 innings, against every Test playing nation, home and away, you score 4,452 runs at an average of 55.65 and a strike rate of 83.26, with 15 hundreds and 20 fifties, with 547 fours and 80 sixes, with a top score of 204. 

You define a new role in modern cricket, you sit at the heart of perhaps the greatest team there has ever been. There is not a batsman alive who would not want to bat an hour in your shoes, just to know how it feels to hit the ball the way you hit it. 

You come to England in the spring of '05. From 21 June to 8 September, in five Test matches and nine innings, you score 181 runs at an average of 22.62 and a strike rate of 71.82, with no hundreds and no fifties, with 24 fours and one six, with a top score of 49*.

Four of those eight dismissals come from the bowling of Andrew Flintoff. Flintoff wins and England win. You lose and Australia lose. You are 32 years old, and you sit at home and wonder if it's over.

'It was intense and emotional. My personal lack of results and contribution through that series played havoc in my mind. It started to allow a little demon in my mind to say, are you up for it still? Were you ever up for it? Did you have a golden run for five or six years and now you're gone?'

You start to see the game differently, feel differently about it, take it home with you. You're a less attentive father, a less attentive husband,  a man wracked with doubt. In your diary you write, 'I hate this game'. Eight innings is what it took, to tear down those five and a half years, those 4,452 runs at 55.65, those fifteen hundreds, those 20 fifties. Eight innings.

'Where that took me personally for the next 12-18 months was the toughest point of my career'.

Adam Gilchrist's interview in yesterday's Observer was full of the kind of honesty above. What it showed, what it proved, is how irrelevant physical talent can become when set against the weight of the human mind, and how unknowable the men who play the game can be. 

All but a handful of batsmen on earth are less talented than Adam Gilchrist. But there are many who would not lose their belief so quickly. Imagine Boycott doubting himself after eight innings. Imagine Botham. He would have backed himself after eight hundred.

It's easy to see how those of lesser ability than Gilchrist and similarly susceptible to introspection are destroyed by Test cricket, or county cricket, or whatever level of the game they reach. 

Gilchrist's interview came on the day Michael Vaughan hung them up. Duncan Fletcher's Guardian piece is by far the best valediction. In it, he describes watching Vaughan bat [in the nets, of course] and seeing something extra about him, 'a presence that was obvious... Everyone gets nervous playing sport at the highest level, but some hide it better than others and Vaughan was the past master'.

Such are the indefinables, and great are the men who can control them. Kevin Pietersen said today, 'I remember coming in at the Wanderers when 60,000 people were looking as if they were going to kill me. Vaughan walked up to me in the middle of the wicket and he said, 'the ball is white, the ball is round, you know what you've done to get here, just watch it as hard as you can'... That calmed me right down from being a gibbering wreck when I walked on that field to the player that I am, because that's all I do now. I just watch the ball'.

Simple game, isn't it?



Krish said...

The mental state should make a lot of difference. Imagine a ball hurtling at you at 90 miles per hour and knowing the exact stroke you have to play. If your brain and nervous system are not performing perfectly at the subconscious level, it is, to say the least, not easy. In the end, it is all biology.

Q said...

"What it showed, what it proved, is how irrelevant physical talent can become when set against the weight of the human mind"

How true! Spot on there OB.

At the end, it really is all abt the mind. It controls ur thoughts, ur emotions, and even ur physical ability.

Brit said...

As the last Ashes-winning captain I imagine Vaughan will be a cert for Sky or channel 4 Ashes punditry, no? Is that the reason for the timing?

Anyway, the fate of the ex-pro is just another tragic aspect to cricket. The coaches and pundits are the lucky ones, but there's few things sadder than an ex-sports pro doing a normal job.

The Old Batsman said...

Vaughany's just been on TV saying he's had no TV offer yet. Shame he's probably too rich to commit to coaching, because he'd be very good on the mental side of the game.

Brit, have you seen the wrestler (I realise how up to the minute this makes me, ahving finally watched it the other day) There's a great scene where mickey rourke has to work on the meat counter of a supermarket, wearing a badge with his real (rather than his wrestling) name on it. Catches it well.

Brit said...

I think the last thing I saw at the flicks was Quantum of Solace - was that even this year?

I have heard the Springsteen song from The Wrestler though...

Have you ever seen a one legged dog makin' his way down the street
If you've ever seen a one legged dog then you've seen me

I thought 'one-legged dog' was going a bit far, really. Three-legged would surely have been sufficient to make the point. A one-legged dog is really screwed.

The Old Batsman said...

It made me laugh out loud when that song came on at the end. A one-legged dog. Superb. Especially if it's a long-legged dog.

The rest of the music was kick-ass 80s hair metal though.

Brit said...

"Come along, Hoppy!"


"Man, that's the ugliest flamingo I've ever seen."