Adam Gilchrist and his love affair with India

Adam Gilchrist retired from the IPL after playing in all of the previous six seasons © IANS

Adam Gilchrist played his last match in the Indian Premier League, when Kings XI Punjab hosted Mumbai Indians on Saturday to end his six-year long relationship in the T20 league with a little jig of his own. Prakash Govindasreenivasan relives the Australian’s stint in the league and his connect with India and its fans.

It was a romantic ending. Australia’s Adam Gilchrist, 41, played his final game of his Indian Premier League (IPL) career in the picturesque background of Dharamsala on May 18, 2013. Close to 15 years ago, a young 26-year-old Gilchrist toured India for the first time. Like any other Australian, he was taken aback by the reception from a cricket-crazy nation, the intimidation of the overtly patriotic fans, the painted faces, -the over-the-top placard, the decibel levels of the fans and all the madness that the Indian crowds packed in a game of cricket.

It took him a while to come to terms with the frenzy but he was one of the few from Down Under to embrace it with open arms. In his Autobiography True Colours, he poured his heart out on everything that happened in his life. Describing his experiences during Australia’s tour of India in 2001, he wrote:  “You cannot escape cricket here. You come home, turn on the TV and the first thing you see is a replay of the entire day’s play on one channel while another has highlights and yet another will have news. The country itself had got a hold of me. It was weird: I felt riven by anxiety, yet every day I saw what people lived with in India and it put my worries into perspective. I find that the more you think about your time in India, the more you realise it’s the most valuable place you’ve ever been, although you don’t know that at the time you’re learning.”

He was one of the rare Australians who enjoyed India in totality. So much that, he was one of the few Australians who enjoyed the spicy Indian cuisine. While most would stay away from anything that even looked remotely spicy to not invite what is famously known as the Delhi Belly, Gilchrist would be busy binging on butter chicken with his Kings XI teammates.

Gilchrist had announced an emotional retirement from international cricket in early 2008, bringing an end to a glorious career spanning across 14 years. A month later, he signed up in the first-ever player auction of the inaugural Indian Premier League season by the Hyderabad franchise Deccan Chargers.

Although, VVS Laxman was the local star of the side, Gilchrist had the ability to lead the team in a better fashion, with Laxman not exactly fitting in well in the T20 mould of the game. The team endured a horrific first season, winning just two of their 14 league games. In both of them, it was Gilchrist’s heroics that saw his side through. In the first, he scored IPL’s fastest century (off just 42 deliveries) against the Mumbai Indians. At the time of his international retirement, he had mentioned his ‘reflexes coming down’ as a reason for his decision but he was far from finished, going by the epic century that an ecstatic DY Patil crowd witnessed.

He scored 54 off 36 balls in Deccan Chargers’ second and last win of the season but failed to keep the team away from the bottom of the points table.

In 2009, the tournament shifted to South Africa and Gilchrist came back with renewed confidence and ability. What transpired was truly a magical script. The wooden spoon holders from the first season went on to clinch the title with Gilchrist at the helm. IPL 2009 was a lot like World Cup 2007 for the Southpaw. The only difference being he played the season-defining knock in the semifinals of the T20 league, while in the World Cup, the knock came in the final. While his monumental efforts of 149 against Sri Lanka still ranks as one of the best innings to be played in a World Cup final, what he did against the Delhi Daredevils in the semi-finals of IPL 2009 was maddening too. His 35-ball knock of 85 sent Virender Sehwag’s team crashing out, after they had been the most dominating side in the league stages. At the post-match press conference, Sehwag in his trademark style declared that the day just belonged to the Chargers’ skipper, who was in murderous mood.

He was dismissed for a duck in the final, but went on to lift the title in the end and also won the award for the ‘fan favourite player in IPL.’

Two seasons later, he went back into the auctions and Preity Zinta’s Kings XI Punjab acquired in him, a good leader to marshal a young brigade.

After a successful stint in the group stages of the first season, Kings XI Punjab’s form plummeted and Gilchrist’s arrival revived hopes of a title. Unfortunately for them, that never happened but Gilchrist lead a side that was always in the scheme of things and often gave many sides a run for their money towards the business end of the season.

In the 2011 edition, Gilchrist scored another century (101*) and strung together a partnership of 206 runs off 84 balls for the second wicket.

After an ordinary season in 2012, Gilchrist said: “I may have played my last IPL match.”

However, he returned in 2013 saying he hadn’t been better prepared for any of the previous editions of the league. That didn’t quite reflect in his batting as he didn’t look as sharp as ever. He did manage to pluck out a few good catches behind the stumps, but there were the odd balls that he wasn’t able to get his gloves behind. He sat out for three games, but couldn’t sit out for too long and jumped right back into the fray in a crucial fixture against Rajasthan Royals. His team lost but he played a fighting knock. He brought back memories of Gilchrist of the old with two knocks in the next two games. One could see him finally play with confident in his final season when he slammed 85 off 54 against RCB.

He also managed 42 off just 26 deliveries against Delhi Daredevils to keep his team’s hopes alive in the season.

His exit move was well-deserved. With his side needing to defend 51 from the last over, he came on to bowl and ended up dismissing Harbhajan Singh, which was followed by these unbelievable scenes.

Despite some of these wonderful knocks, Gilchrist will be remembered more for the connect he had with the Indian crowd and his ability to lead a bunch of young Indian players. His departure from the international scene in 2008 left many of his fans teary-eyed, but, his final act in the IPL put a wide smile across all their faces. The cheerful Australian, thus brought a fitting end to his love affair with India, a country that adored him so dearly.

(Prakash Govindasreenivasan is an Editorial consultant at CricketCountry and a sports fanatic, with a soft corner for cricket. After studying journalism for two years, came the first big high in his professional life – the opportunity to interview his hero Adam Gilchrist and talking about his magnificent 149 in the 2007 World Cup final. While not following cricket, he is busy rooting for Chelsea FC)