February 23, 2002. Adam Gilchrist launched one of the most brutal assaults ever witnessed on a thoroughly decent South African bowling attack for a thundering double hundred. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the day when he scored the then quickest double century in Test history and just missed out on becoming a millionaire to boot.
It was the kind of sustained carnage unseen on a Test match ground. It was a savagery that led a normally sedate Wisden to remark, “Gilchrist was playing with them like a cat keeping a half-dead mouse alive for entertainment.”
The first day had ended with the honours pretty much even. By the second afternoon, the balance had shifted devastatingly enough to leave South Africans tottering at the very edge of survival — a pulverised side shell-shocked into submission.
When Gilchrist had walked out to bat in the last hour of the first day, the Proteans had just about clawed their way back into the game. Matthew Hayden had provided a toned-down version of the left-handed destruction to follow, with a hundred studded with 18 boundaries and two sixes. But, he had been dismissed late into the fifth hour and Steve Waugh had not lasted too long. At 293 for five, the game was evenly balanced.
Gilchrist and Damien Martyn had played out the remaining 10 overs of the day to finish on 331. The Australian wicketkeeper had not been overly aggressive during the dying moments of the day, apart from swinging Nel for a six over square-leg.
It looked as if the home side, coming in from a demoralising 0-3 defeat in Australia, had settled down to provide a close contest. However, they ran into a hurricane on the second day.
Martyn, classy and elegant, approached his innings with all the studious care of the archetypical Test match stylist. Gilchrist, however, had no such affiliation to the purists. Riled by some offensive taunts from the crowd as was he walking in to bat, he turned his focus on absolute destruction.
Bowler after bowler — quite a handful of them including Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini and Jacques Kallis — faced the bazooka of a bat as the ball disappeared to all corners of the ground. Gilchrist reached his fifty in 89 balls with six fours and a six. South Africans had been hampered by the pulled hamstring Allan Donald suffered on the first day — his aging body finally gave up and he retired after the Test. Captain Shaun Pollock had been side-lined with injury. But, the remaining bowlers were a decent lot and treated with a degree of disdain that they did not deserve.
After reaching his fifty, Gilchrist stepped up the tempo. The second fifty took just 32 balls, and contained a further six boundaries and two sixes, both off Nicky Boje. All the while, Martyn had been as much a spectator as anyone else in the stands, doing little of note, apart from sending Nel to the boundary three times in an over.
After progressing watchfully to his half-century, Martyn opened up as well. His own second fifty took just 34 balls. An enthralling afternoon session produced 190 runs at 7.45 per over.
A hapless captain Mark Boucher, standing in for the injured Pollock, had to turn to the gentle medium pace of Neil McKenzie. Gilchrist, on 136, smashed him for 2, 4, 2, 6, 2, 4 — an annihilation almost poetic in its symmetry. The next over saw Nel being pulled for another huge six.
Almost a million
McKenzie bowled again, and after a quite five ball interlude containing just a two and a four, Gilchrist aimed for a million.
A local gold mine had placed an advertising hoarding — safely positioned well beyond the crowd at deep mid-wicket — offering a solid gold ingot worth 1.3 Rand to any batsman who could hit it. McKenzie pitched short and Gilchrist, by now toying with the attack, pulled it hard and high, following the ball with his eyes, egging it on with his gestures, jumping up and down in excitement. He missed the target by a couple of metres, reacting animatedly at the close brush with a fortune. However, he had moved to 175 with the stroke and the contest had been reduced to a game between Gilchrist and the limits of slaughtering havoc.
For a while, the long-standing 346-run sixth wicket partnership record set by Don Bradman and Jack Fingleton seemed under threat. But, with the stand worth 317, Martyn sliced one from Kallis down the throat of Gary Kirsten at third-man. He walked back for 133 at which point the score read 610 for six. Neither batsman regretted missing out on the world record. According to Gilchrist, “It’s best you don’t tamper with those sorts of records. I don’t think you want to knock The Don off.”
There was no respite for the South Africans, though. In the following over, Gilchrist carted Boje for two more sixes off consecutive balls. And before Shane Warne fell at the stroke of tea, he too had pummelled Boje into the stands.
At the time of the interval, Gilchrist was on 199 from 211 balls. The first ball he faced after tea was from Kallis and he struck it for his 19th boundary to get to his double hundred. It also contained eight savage sixes and came off 212 deliveries, the fastest double century at that time — eight balls quicker than Ian Botham’s two-decade old record. Gilchrist also became the fifth wicketkeeper ever to get to two hundred, after Imtiaz Ali, Taslim Arif, Brendon Kuruppu and Andy Flower.
When Steve Waugh called him in at the end of the over, he walked back to a rousing ovation from an otherwise infamously parochial crowd. It had been a breathtaking unbeaten 204 from 213 deliveries, one of the most audaciously aggressive innings ever witnessed in Test cricket.
Australia had closed their innings at 652 for seven.
The aftermath of destruction
A shattered and shredded South African team could last just 86 overs across their two innings. They surrendered meekly against Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie to lose within three days. The margin of defeat was the second heaviest ever inflicted in Test cricket — a whopping innings and 360 runs.
Brief scores: Australia 652 for seven declared (Matthew Hayden 122, Mark Waugh 53, Damien Martyn 133, Adam Gilchrist 204*) beat South Africa 159 (Ashwell Prince 49) and 133 (Herschelle Gibbs 47, Glenn McGrath 5 for 21, Shane Warne 4 for 44) by an innings and 360 runs.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)