It was an emotional evening in Adelaide on January 30, 2008, when Adam Gilchrist announced his retirement from international cricket. The Australian said he would be seen on the field again, in the IPL. Little did we know then how big the IPL would become and the role Gilchrist would play in it.
The man’s individual brilliance got submerged in his team's forgettable run last year, but the Deccan Chargers have hit back in IPL II under him. The performer extraordinaire has been getting the team off to blazing starts, keeping wickets, making late and fine adjustments to the field and sprinting between ends after overs. He is not just keeping pace with the fastest form of the game, but setting the pace, at 37.
There has been a marked change in the way the Chargers have turned out this year. Coach Darren Lehmann acknowledges Gilchrist's role in the team's body language. “The way he stays fit and takes part in everything is infectious”, he said.
While the rest went for batting and bowling practice in Kimberley, Gilchrist kept flinging himself to catch balls fired from a short distance. This went on for about half-an-hour before he started tonking the ball around.
For him, it's not only about staying fit.
“I take pride in performance. I know it's a matter of a few weeks for me unlike most others because I can cool off for the rest of the year… But then, what I do as a pro is dear to me. I have to give it my best…it is a question of mindset and enthusiasm,” he said.
The enthusiasm Gilchrist spoke of is evident in the rest of the side. They throw themselves to pull off improbable stops, even though some of them are not known for their fielding in domestic cricket.
To see the likes of T. Suman, Ravi Teja, Harmeet Singh trying to surpass themselves is confirmation of what Lehmann termed “infectious”. Gilchrist, the captain, is not like Shane Warne, who is always at the forefront, but he too leads in his inimitable style.
Virender Sehwag summed up the phenomenon called Gilchrist.
“He has retired from international cricket, his talent has not. He knows it's a question of 45 days a year for him. If he stays fit, he can do well because of his talent.” Simply, but aptly put.
However, it can't be that simple. Even though it's a matter of a few weeks, for a man whose achievements put him among the all-time greats and who was part of the most dominant team in history, to restart after calling it a day couldn't have been simple.
That he is not just playing the younger man's game but doing better than them elevates him to a level few can rise.
“Pride in performance,” Gilchrist described it well. “Infectious,” Lehmann put it in perspective.