Jason Gillespie, born April 19, 1975, is the fifth most successful fast bowler produced by Australia with a tally of 259 Test wickets. Jaideep Vaidya looks back at an unfulfilled career that was crippled with an array of injuries and did not possibly do full justice to his talent.
Fast bowlers are often remembered for their steaming pace, the unfailing accuracy of their line and length and, obviously, the number in their wickets column. But not Jason Gillespie. The former Australian quick, who resembled a rock star with his long, curly bangs, once formed one of the most potent fast-bowling pairs with Glenn McGrath through the late nineties and early noughties. However, today, more than seven years after his last match, the first thing that would come to most minds that follow cricket is a statistical oddity that transpired in Chittagong on this day, seven years ago.
What do batsmen like Mark Waugh, Ian Chappell, Michael Atherton, Andrew Strauss and Michael Vaughan have in common? Quite simply, they are batsmen who have over 5,000 Test runs to their name, yet none of them have ever scored a double century. Jason ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie, with all of 1,218 runs in Test cricket, scored 201 of them in one innings, in what turned out to be his first Test match hundred in his last Test innings!
On his 31st birthday, Gillespie, who came in at No 3, became the third genuine night-watchman to score a century in Tests and the first to convert it into a double. He went past the previous record of the highest score by a night-watchman — Tony Mann’s 105 against India in 1977 — and comfortably beat his own previous highest Test score of 54 not out. It was a remarkable feat, one that shocked many, including Gillespie himself.
“This is ridiculous,” Gillespie told the Sydney Morning Herald after the game. “I was just lucky that the shots came off and I had a bit of a laugh all the way. It’s unbelievable. It’s a fairytale really. Hansel and Gretel, and Dizzy’s double hundred, it’s one and the same. Absolute fairytale.”
Michael Hussey, with whom Gillespie shared a 320-run fourth-wicket partnership, said: “He knew every Test player and former Test player’s highest score and was ticking them off. Went past Mark Waugh , he told me that. Went past Michael Clarke , he told me that. Went past Steve Waugh .” “And Boonie ,”said Gillespie, rather proudly.
“Considering Jason hadn’t made a hundred in any form of cricket, it was an amazing innings,” said then Australian coach John Buchanan. ”For any batsman, particularly a night-watchman, to sustain an innings of over 400 balls is something we may never see again.”
And that just might be the case.
Gillespie was born in a Sydney suburb in the April of 1975 and was totally engulfed in sports right from the beginning. He spent much of his childhood days at the Illawong Cricket Club trying to imitate Dennis Lillee’s bowling off a long run-up. Like all kids his age, he painted three stumps on the wall of his garage and bowled at it for hours at end. Gillespie also won the Junior Cricketer of the Year at Illawong in 1985 at age 10. When he was 15, his family moved to Adelaide and Gillespie soon joined Adelaide Cricket Club and worked himself up the ranks.
In 1994, while Gillespie was at a petrol station, he overheard the news of him being picked for South Australia. “It was a bolt from the blue,” Gillespie wrote in his autobiography, Dizzy: The Jason Gillespie Story, of the day he came to know he would be playing the touring Zimbabweans for his state team. But then, he was just being humble.
Gillespie took four for 30 on debut as South Australia went on to win the match by seven wickets. It was while training at the Adelaide Oval with the state team that Gillespie came under the tutelage of Jeff Hammond, a man who would have a huge impact on his cricketing life and would also write the foreword of Gillespie’s book. “I often called him ‘The Road Runner’,” Hammond would write. “He would bound in off a long run, with a steely eye, gnashing teeth and long hair trailing at the back of his head; it was an inspiring sight.”
The ‘Road Runner’ would soon make the Australian squad for the 1996 World Cup. In November that same year, he would be picked in the Test squad that welcomed the West Indies in a bid to win the first home series against the men from the Caribbean since 1975-76. Dizzy found his name in the playing XI for the second Test at the Gabba. He took two for 62 in the first innings, with no success in the second, even as Australia went on to win the match by 124 runs. The hosts then regained the Frank Worrell Trophy 3-2.
If Gillespie’s contribution to that historic series triumph wasn’t much, it certainly was a couple of months later when Australia toured South Africa. Dizzy took his first fifer at Port Elizabeth and scalped a total 14 victims, as Australia clinched the three-match series 2-1. He soon formed a formidable pairing with fellow quick Glenn McGrath as the duo spearheaded Australia’s world-conquering bowling assault in the years to come.
In the early noughties, it was revealed that Gillespie came from aboriginal descent. His great grandfather was a Kamilaroi warrior. Gillespie was subjected to some amount of criticism, with some elements from the media saying he had tried to hide his heritage from the outside world. Gillespie said that he always knew about it, but did not want to blow a trumpet.
“It’s hard going from just being a cricketer, then all of a sudden you’re a big ambassador for a whole race of people,” Gillespie said. “It takes a bit of adjusting. I never made a secret of being an Aboriginal heritage. It was just that no one had ever asked me to that point. I’ve always said I’m an interesting mix because I’ve got Aboriginal blood and on my mum’s side is mainly Greek.”
Till date, Gillespie is the only known indigenous player to have worn the Baggy Green.
That Gillespie went on to play just 71 Tests in what first appeared to be a promising career is down to the fact that injury was his middle name. You can actually go dizzy reading the long list of body parts that Gillespie injured in his 10-year career. He missed most of the 1997-98 season with spinal stress fractures, the 1999-2000 season with a broken leg and a fractured wrist after a rather nasty fielding collision with Steve Waugh at Kandy, and strained his hamstring in late 2000. Apart from this, the assorted collection includes busted feet, hip twinges, side strains, achy shoulders, torn calves and groin niggles.
Gillespie endured a calamitous Ashes tour in 2005 where was picked on by the English batsmen and battered into submission. He was made the scapegoat for Australia’s 2-1 loss and dropped from the team. He returned the following year when the Aussies toured Bangladesh and completed a clean sweep, with Dizzy getting the double hundred in the final Test. As it turned out, that match was his last for Australia. Gillespie is probably the only player to date to have been dropped from the team after scoring a double century.
Gillespie announced his retirement from First-Class cricket after the 2007-08 season, seeing no prospects of a call-back and went on to play in the now defunct Indian Cricket League (ICL). After the league’s forced scrapping, he got a coaching stint at Yorkshire where he still is to date.
In pictures: Jason Gillespie’s career
(Jaideep Vaidya is a multiple sports buff and a writer at CricketCountry. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn’t fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog - The Mullygrubber )