THE NAT­U­RAL

The most ex­hil­a­rat­ing bats­man of his time was also a paragon of sports­man­ship – whether he liked it or not

Men's Health (Australia) - - Inspiration - Adam Gilchrist Mal­colm Knox co-wrote Gilchrist’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, True Colours.

At times of moral panic in Aus­tralian cricket, one past player is in­vari­ably held up, like Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton with the cherry tree, as a sym­bol of hon­esty.

Adam Gilchrist is em­bar­rassed. He doesn’t think he de­serves this part. When he ‘walked’ dur­ing the 2003 World Cup semi-fi­nal against Sri Lanka, it wasn’t a state­ment of sports­man­ship but a brain-snap. A voice in his head told him to walk, and his legs moved for him. He sneaked back to the dress­ing room wor­ry­ing that his team­mates would think he had lost his mind.

The most like­able thing about Gilly is not that he is a per­fect per­son. To the con­trary: it’s that he has many flaws and he knows it. He played his cricket hard, and he played to win. He never con­sid­ered him­self a cru­sader for old-fash­ioned val­ues of sports­man­ship. He is quite proud of the fact that he was cited for mis­be­haviour more of­ten than any other player of his time. The goody-two-shoes la­bel never sat com­fort­ably with him.

And yet it’s equally pos­si­ble to say that the crick­et­ing pub­lic had a clearer pic­ture of Gilly than he had of him­self. He knew his im­per­fec­tions all too well. One morn­ing in Perth dur­ing an Ashes se­ries, he sat in the WACA car park in tears, un­der­go­ing a com­plete melt­down of self-doubt and self-re­crim­i­na­tion, feel­ing he was let­ting his coun­try and team­mates down. Then he picked him­self up, got out of the car, and that af­ter­noon pro­duced one of the most up­lift­ing in­nings in cricket his­tory. In his own mind, he was a mess. The pub­lic Gilly, who we saw, was some­one who could mas­ter his nerves and the pres­sure of the sit­u­a­tion to con­vey an im­pres­sion of com­plete free­dom and joy. How was that pos­si­ble?

Peo­ple who live with such fame are a com­pos­ite of unique parts, and Gilly has al­ways been hum­bled by the way his acts on the cricket field in­spired oth­ers. Elite sport is as pub­lic a role, as di­vorced from pri­vate re­al­ity, as the act­ing pro­fes­sion. No­body cared if Adam Gilchrist left the toi­let seat up or didn’t phone his par­ents of­ten enough or cried in the car park or wanted to be one of the boys. What we cared about was what he did in his pub­lic role: to ex­press a spirit of de­cency, strong char­ac­ter and en­joy­ment through his sport, which isn’t, after all, life and death.

Gilchrist’s 2006-07 Ashes ton was a 57-ball whirl­wind of clean hit­ting.

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