Adam Gilchrist is widely considered as the greatest wicketkeeper-batsman to have ever played the game. His ability as a player alone puts him among the prominent cricketers of all time. And when you consider his influence – the way he changed the perception of wicketkeepers – you could say that he is worthy of being in consideration to be on the Mount Rushmore of cricket.
While Gilchrist will always be predominantly remembered for his excellence in international cricket and his countless accomplishments at the top level, he enjoyed a memorable career in the early years of the Indian Premier League (IPL) too. The IPL started shortly after Gilchrist had retired from international cricket in 2008 and he would be a regular part of the league in the first six seasons.
While he notched up two centuries during his IPL career, you could say that his most memorable innings in the competition came during the semi-finals of the 2009 season.
In the first season of the IPL, the Deccan Chargers were a team filled with superstars. On paper, it looked like they had a sublime squad. They seemed to have a fine mix of global superstars and young Indian talent. But on many occasions in sports, you see star-studded teams not living up to their promise and in the inaugural season of the IPL, we saw that with the Chargers who won just two matches out of 14 and finished at the bottom of the table.
Midway through the first season, the Hyderabad-based franchise decided to change captains from VVS Laxman to Gilchrist. And they would stick with the Australian wicketkeeper-batsman as the skipper in the season to follow.
In IPL 2009, Deccan managed to turn things around. They won seven games in the league stage and finished in the top four but only thanks to a superior run-rate over Kings XI Punjab. Having just about sneaked into the knockout stages, they had a tough assignment ahead of them in the semi-finals where they’d be up against table-toppers Delhi Daredevils who had won 10 league matches.
Gilchrist won the toss and put Delhi into bat who had a sumptuous batting line-up. Their top six read: Gautam Gambhir, David Warner, Virender Sehwag, Tillakaratne Dilshan, AB de Villiers, Dinesh Karthik. It needed a monumental effort from the Deccan bowlers if they had to contain such superstars. Step forward, Ryan Harris.
Harris, who’d go on to become a champion Test bowler in the next few years, wasn’t a household name at the time, especially to Indian audiences. After all, prior to IPL 2009, he had played just one international match for Australia.
Maiden overs don’t occur very often in T20 cricket. A wicket maiden is even rarer. And a double-wicket maiden, especially in the first over of the match? These are few and far between. On this occasion, it is exactly what Harris produced. Both of Delhi’s openers – Gambhir and Warner – had to head back to the pavilion without troubling the scorers.
From 0/2 at the end of the first over, the Daredevils did reasonably well to reach 153/8 with Dilshan holding the innings together with a half-century while Sehwag and de Villiers got starts. In a season where the scoring rate was on the lower side, this seemed like a handy total, especially in a knockout match.
If the first over of Delhi’s innings had started the engine flawlessly for Deccan, the first over of their innings put them into fifth gear. Dirk Nannes, who had been having a fabulous season which kept the legendary Glenn McGrath on the bench, had the new ball in his hand. Nannes vs Gilchrist – it promised to be an enthralling contest as for years, fans from all across the world had seen the latter batting with no half-measures in white-ball cricket. At the age of 37, how would the great wicketkeeper-batsman fare against a rapid pace bowler in a crunch game?
We didn’t have to wait long to get the answer. After a dot ball and a wide to start, Gilchrist hit five consecutive fours. It had been just one over and the Deccan Chargers skipper was already putting on a clinic.
Predictably, Nannes was taken out of the bowling attack and in came the then 18-year-old Pradeep Sangwan to bowl the third over. Herschelle Gibbs’ dismissal by Ashish Nehra in the second over nor the change in bowling deterred Gilchrist. He was a man on a mission and the first three deliveries of Sangwan’s spell read: four, four, six. Only 10 deliveries faced and the left-handed batsman was already on 35*.
A couple of overs later, Gilchrist reached his fifty in just 17 balls – at the time, the fastest IPL half-century. In the sixth over, he hit Sehwag for a four which was followed by three sixes. At the end of the Powerplay, Gilchrist was unbeaten on 74 from just 25 deliveries, with the Chargers on 84/1. At the start of the innings, the required rate was 7.7 and within six overs, it was down to five.
Gilchrist was eventually dismissed for 85 off 35 deliveries, which included 10 fours and five sixes. By then, he had done more than what was required and Deccan ended up easing to a six-wicket victory. The team that entered the knockout stages on net run-rate had outplayed the table-toppers, mainly thanks to one iconic cricketer.
In the final against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), Gilchrist would fail to contribute with the bat. After watching the Australian opening batsman’s heroics against Nannes in the semi-finals, RCB skipper Anil Kumble decided to open the bowling himself – the idea was to take pace off the ball.
The tactic worked for the Bengaluru-based franchise as Gilchrist was at the crease for only three deliveries before getting bowled for a duck. But at the end of the day, he wouldn’t have worried about that much as Deccan Chargers clinched the IPL title, winning a thrilling finale by six runs.
For his magnificent batting and astute captaincy through IPL 2009, Gilchrist was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. In 16 matches that season, he had scored 495 runs at an average of 30.93 and a strike rate of 152.30. In addition to that, he had led a team that had finished last the previous year to the summit. It was fairytale story.
Gilchrist captained Deccan Chargers to the final four in IPL 2010 as well, before they fell short against Chennai Super Kings at the semi-final stage. That was his final season with the Chargers and he was acquired by Kings XI Punjab in the 2011 IPL auctions, a team he would lead for three seasons before retiring from the tournament in 2013.