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Gary Gilmour, born on June 26, 1951, was a burly left-handed Australian all-rounder. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a remarkably talented all-rounder who did not eventually live up to his potential.
At the peak of his form Gary Gilmour was often compared to Alan Davidson. A strong hitter of the cricket ball and gifted with a prodigious ability to swing the ball into the right-hander — and often leave him — Gilmour could have been the all-rounder Australia sorely missed in the 1970s.
He ended up playing only 15 Tests instead in which he scored 483 runs at 23.00 and picked up 54 wickets at 26.03. Among all left-arm seamers since World War II with 50 or more wickets, Gilmour ranks fifth in terms of bowling average. He scored 42 runs (getting out once) and picked up 16 wickets at an unbelievable 10.31 in the five One-Day Internationals (ODIs) he played.
Gilmour could hit the ball very hard. The free-flowing style of batting — albeit an underestimated attribute — often took the opposition by surprise. And his ability to swing the ball often made him a dangerous bowler in favourable conditions.
Gilmour made a name for himself even at school level, winning a baseball Blue in 1967 and a cricket Blue in 1969. He rose through the ranks rapidly and made his First-Class debut against South Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) in 1971-72. Batting at eight, Gilmour scored 40 and 102 in the match, besides picking two wickets. His first five-for came next season against Western Australia at Perth where he picked up five for 65 and two for 30 along with innings of 37 and 35.
Soon he made a reputation as one of the leading all-rounders in the country. Playing for New South Wales against the touring New Zealanders at SCG, Gilmour impressed the selectors with four for 102 and three for 56 as well as an innings of 54. The performance earned him a Test cap at Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in three weeks’ time.
Gilmour had an excellent debut. He walked out to bat at 381 for seven, with a full license to have his own way with the bowlers. The bowlers — the Hadlee brothers included — were hit brutally as he raced to a 58-ball 52 out of the 81 scored during his stay. Warmed up nicely by his onslaught he went on to take four for 75 as New Zealand were asked to follow-on before the spinners bowled Australia to an innings victory. He followed this performance with four more wickets in the next Test at SCG.
Two months later he toured New Zealand and bowled brilliantly in the only Test he played. He picked up five for 64 (his first five-for) and two for 52; despite all that he was strangely overlooked until he made an impact in the inaugural World Cup in 1975.
Gilmour went into the World Cup with only two ODIs under his belt. He had not batted in any of them and had picked up three for 55 — and the matches were played well over a year back. He was left out of the league matches and got a chance only in the semi-final at Headingley.
Getting a chance to open bowling along with Dennis Lillee — ahead of Max Walker and Jeff Thomson — Gilmour ran through the England top-order before they could realise what was going on. Four batsmen were leg-before, one bowled, and one caught-behind as Gilmour took the first six English wickets to reduce them to 36 for six.
Gilmour was unplayable that day. He made the most out of the overcast conditions and the tinge of green on the turf making even Lillee looked pale in comparison. The English batsmen were no match to Gilmour. They succumbed to 93 all-out as the southpaw finished with figures of 12-6-14-6 — then the best in ODIs — a record that stood for eight years. Gilmour’s spell was rated the best in ODI history by Wisden.
His job was far from over, though. He found himself coming out again at 39 for six — still requiring 55 to win — to join Doug Walters. Walters held one end up displaying uncharacteristic temperament as Gilmour scored runs at a rapid rate. The target was reached in 58 balls. It remains one of the greatest all-round performances in the history of 50-over cricket.
He was an obvious selection for the final at Lord’s. Despite Clive Lloyd’s 85-ball 102 — an innings that had has now become a part of cricket folklore — Gilmour shone brightly. He picked up five for 48 — which included Lloyd, Alvin Kallicharran, Rohan Kanhai, Viv Richards, and Deryck Murray. The effort, however, was not good enough to win the World Cup.
Gilmour finished the tournament with the absurd figures of 11 for 62 from two matches. He topped all sorts of charts — wickets, average (5.64), strike-rate (13.0), and had two of the three five-fors of the tournament.
Despite his superlative numbers Gilmour got to play only a single Test in the subsequent Ashes. He was picked only at Headingley — possibly because of his performance in the World Cup semi-final. Once again he was in his elements, picking up six for 85 (it would remain his career-best figures) and three for 72 (the nine for 157 would remain his career-best match figures).
Strangely, Gilmour was not picked in the final Test. He finished the tour with 389 runs at 43.22 and 28 wickets at 28.17 from 10 matches but was selected for only a single Test and two ODIs.
Gilmour was not to be stopped, though. At this stage he had played only four Tests in close to two years despite picking up 24 wickets at 21.00. He was picked for the Gabba Test against West Indies and went on to have an amazing series.
He missed the third Test at MCG, but played in the other five; West Indies were thrashed by a 5-1 margin; Gilmour began with match-figures of six for 68 at Gabba and finished with five for 34 at MCG — the final five-for of his career. He also picked up two for 48 in the one-off ODI — which, strangely, turned out to be the last of his career.
He went on to top the Australian bowling charts with 20 wickets at 20.30 — ahead of both Lillee and Thomson, both of whom bowled splendidly as well. When both Lillee and Thomson were both hit for over four runs an eight-ball over, Gilmour conceded 3.11 — and was thus the most difficult of the three to bat against.
He also scored 185 runs at 26.42, the best innings coming at Adelaide where he smashed Andy Roberts and Michael Holding for a 94-ball 95 out of a team score of 146.
Decline in bowling
It all went horribly wrong from there. His first nine Tests had yielded 44 wickets at 20.68 with a strike rate of 42.2; the last six fetched only 10 wickets at an average of 49.60 and a strike-rate of 80.3
The batting improved, though, reaching its peak in the Christchurch Test of 1976-77 when he came out to join Walters with the score on 248 for six. Walters had drunk virtually throughout the previous night and had later claimed that he could not see anything during the beginning of his innings, especially against Richard Hadlee. He simply hit out at whatever came his way.
Gilmour’s arrival made it two of them as they blasted their way to 345 for six at stumps. Walters was on 129 and Gilmour on 65. That night Gilmour joined Walters in the all-night booze session, they were seen by the team manager Roger Wootten, who had to be restrained by Rodney Marsh just like the previous night.
A couple of journalists also witnessed their ‘night-out’ and the news got out. The knives were sharpened, eager to get into action. The duo, however, did not care: they flogged the hapless Kiwis mercilessly. Gilmour fell for a 146-ball 101 with 20 fours and a six. It remained his only Test hundred. He scored 85.15 per cent of his runs in boundaries — the highest for any score over hundred — going past John Edrich’s 76.77 per cent during his 310.
He scored 64 in the next Test at Auckland as well, but got to bowl only eight overs in which he picked up a single wicket for 67. Despite scoring 165 from the two Tests he picked up two wickets from the two Tests at 81.50. And then, in the Centenary Test later that month, Gilmour bowled only nine overs and failed with the bat, which brought to an end to his career.
Gilmour could never make a comeback to the top level. A persistent foot injury that was misdiagnosed did not help his cause. His form deteriorated, he neglected training, and wasn’t even considered for World Series Cricket. After missing two consecutive he came back to play two matches in 1979-80 with poor performances and thereafter retired from all kinds of cricket.
As Gideon Haigh noted, “A debilitating foot injury was a handicap. So was a light-hearted attitude to training and fitness that owed more to the 1950s than to the increasingly professional era of which he [Gilmour] was part.”
He had to undergo a liver transplant in 2005 — a surgery whose costs were raised by an auction conducted by Ian Chappell, his captain in the Headingley semi-final of 1975. The new practice nets at the Lugar Park in Kotara were named after him in 2010.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)
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