Referendums, Gilchrist and a record-breaking run chase – the Australian cricket summer in 1999/2000

 

 

The year is 1999.

 

Australia is a maturing nation. Nearly a century old in official terms, the country is meeting the looming horizon of a new millennium with an eye on change. Public opinion is divided on how Australia should go forward.

 

Throughout 1999, Australian discourse turns to their position in the Commonwealth. With a sense of optimism, the nation begins to call for a separation from the British monarchy. A split into its own republic. No inkling of British partnerships, no Union Jack emblazoned on the flag. Just a movement away from the old, towards the blistering and exciting new that Y2K promised.

 

Coming to the end of the 1900s, the growing debate eventually forced Parliament into calling for a referendum on the issue. The last one held, the landmark vote would be on whether Australia should maintain its Commonwealth ties or step forward into 2000 as an individual force.

 

Despite the heavy backing for the concept of a President and a republic, the vote would not pass. Falling short of the notorious double-majority rule, which requires the majority of votes of the whole nation as well as over half of the votes in the majority of the states to pass the movement, Australia refused to change. Queen Elizabeth II’s position as head of state lay intact, her smile shining over Australia still.

 

As this social change was refuted through debates on wording and systems, a similar evolution was occurring in the nation’s favourite summer pastime.

 

Following a whirlwind 1999 World Cup victory, the Australian cricket team faced a problem come the home summer. Slated to play Pakistan and India throughout the coming months, public opinion was split on another issue.

 

A seasoned wicket-keeper with a blistering penchant for attacking batting had developed his national performances since 1996, culminating in a dominant World Cup final performance just months before. The early days of November 1999 may have been all about the republic referendum, but the month would also mention the name of Adam Gilchrist many times.

 

In his place as test wicket-keeper/ batsman was Australia’s royal. Ian Healy was a beloved figure, the perfect Australian sportsman. He was chirpy, always smiling and tough around the edges – no frills at its finest. Warne, the biggest Australian celebrity at the time, could not be mentioned without Healy’s name accompanying it – the courageous and reliable Robin to the tongue-in-cheek Batman. It’s fair to say Ian Healy was loved by the nation.

 

But performances created a tense discussion. For a decade Healy had been untouchable – a regular in the test side. His leadership, nous and consistency meant he had never been challenged. His toughness in the face of injury didn’t give anyone else a sniff of snatching the spot. However, Gilchrist was different – an irrepressible force of blitzkrieg.

 

The widespread outcry at Healy’s departure was further ignited by the Australian selectors’ cold-hearted dismissal of him. Here was a stalwart, one of the hardest-working cricketers the nation had ever produced. And the selectors up in the head office refused to give him a farewell game at his Gabba home. The Queen had been ousted as head of state, and now Gilchrist was the young and sharp President walking in to take the gloves.

 

Unlike Australia’s want for a republic, they weren’t happy with the arrival of Gilchrist. He was a wonderful one-day bat and keeper – a high entertainment factor always whirled around his whipping bat when he loped to the crease. But this kid just couldn’t come in and replace Healy.

 

This cold reception met Gilchrist at the Gabba. Despite receiving all the well-wishes a gracious Healy could give him, the Queenslanders wanted their native boy behind the stumps, baying on Warney for more catches and stumpings.

 

Fortunately, Gilchrist wasn’t fazed by this lack of acceptance. He had experienced a very similar feeling when migrating from his home of New South Wales to the Western Australian Warriors. Replacing ex-Test gloveman Tim Zoehrer out west, the locals took a long time to warm up to the gentle new keeper taking his place. In that scenario, he had taken a record amount of dismissals in his first few seasons and smacked 189 not out off only 187 balls in a Sheffield Shield final. He needed something better here.

 

Gilly’s start to Test cricket was solid. A crisp 81 showed his capabilities with the bat, while he held his own keeping to the likes of Warne and McGrath, even snagging his first of many stumpings off the former. He was no Healy, but at least he wasn’t a dud.

 

Flying down to Hobart for the second test after a breezy 10-wicket win at the Gabba, the Australians were hopeful. A lean test record in 1999 had made the public uneasy. The Aussies’ first test performance was positive, but the people yearned for more before they could accept this team. The youngsters in Langer and Ponting were heavily scrutinised. Gilchrist had been thrust under the microscope because of the royal company he was replacing. In an Australian landscape where they fell frustratingly short of changing to a republic, many people fed these fresh emotions into the changing of the guard occurring in the test team.

 

The confident Aussies flew down to Hobart with no clue about what was about to happen. Pakistan had struggled in the Brisbane heat – the pace wunderkind in Shoaib Akhtar had bowled fast without much penetration. The old-timers in Slater and Blewett had handled the notorious Wasim Akram with ease. What more could the Pakistanis have up their sleeves?

 

An off-spinner was their answer. Thrust under the gloomy grey clouds down south, Saqlain Mushtaq sent fear straight through Australian hearts. His guile was breathtaking, as a somewhat comfortable Australia were ravaged by the Pakistanis’ penchant for mystery and turning it whichever way he pleased. Rolling the visitors for just 222 on the first morning, they only managed to scrape out a 24-run lead. Suddenly, the game was on.

 

Things only went from bad to worse for the young Australian team. This was the worst outcome for the new blood – a collapse down in Hobart against a Pakistani team that had previously looked hapless. The experience and class of Inzamam-ul-Haq and Ijaz Ahmed batted Australia seemingly out of the match on a Hobart deck that was notoriously demonic. Warne toiled for five wickets, but the visitors had forced a now frail-looking line up to chase over 350 for a win. For all of the selectors’ bold moves, it all looked like backfiring sensationally. Healy was bringing out the weathered gloves from the garage as the Aussie innings commenced.

 

But Healy never got his apology and reinstatement. Australia fell to 5-126 after Ponting fell cheaply once more, struggling in a poor run of form. The under-fire Langer was joined by a jittery Gilchrist. Known for his attacking shots and risky batsmanship, the young keeper wasn’t expected to do much other than give the run rate a temporary boost before being another scalp for Mushtaq.

 

Coming off six first-innings wickets, Mushtaq turned them square. Langer was lucky to survive a caught behind shout that would have been easily overturned by the DRS today. Or would it have? Either way, he plodded on for a gritty ton that would win him man of the match. One youngster was safe. Some choices were right.

 

The real story was Gilchrist. Arriving in a time of utter crisis, nothing fazed him. With unflappable temperament and a grin on his face, he flailed the Pakistanis around Bellerive Oval for nearly five hours. Never relenting, he picked Langer up and carried him towards the desired total at a canter. Mushtaq suddenly looked like a medium-pace bowler (except for when he finally claimed Langer for 127), Gilchrist using his feet gracefully to take him over the top of fielders on countless occasions. The sweep was exquisitely used, his high batting grip dropping on beautiful-sounding cover drives as quickly as his bat flicked up for a hook shot.

 

Healy was quickly forgotten. This new guy on the block could seriously play. Finishing the game on 149 not out in a massive and unlikely victory, Gilchrist’s inclusion in the team appeared inspired. Unlike the public’s timid voting in the referendum, some brave decision-making by selectors meant they had changed for the better.

 

Specialist keepers were quickly removed. After that fateful grey day in Hobart, keepers were required to bat just as well as they kept, if not better. And it was all because of Gilchrist.

 

The Hobart miracle was a major step forward for Australian cricket. Threatening to insert even more doubt into a politically and sportingly nervous society, the Langer and Gilchrist partnership set the platform for a dominant patch of wins. A clean sweep against Pakistan and India that summer would establish a team that would set the world record for consecutive test victories. And who was at the heart of it? Adam Gilchrist, the President of change that Australia came to realise was exactly what they had been searching for politically. They say Australian cricket players hold just as much power as the Prime Minister. In 1999, they did what politics and the public weren’t brave enough to do. And it paid off spectacularly.

 

That Hobart scorecard – https://www.espncricinfo.com/series/15759/scorecard/63855/australia-vs-pakistan-2nd-test-pakistan-tour-of-australia-1999-

 

 

To read more from Sean Mortell, click here.

 

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

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Comments

  1. Good stuff Sean. I like my history.

    It’s scary thinking that 1999 is now deemed history. It seems like only a few years back, but so much has changed. However I still live in the same house!

    Gilchrist certainly had an impact. His 81 in our big win at the Gabba was a good start, then his spectacular role in our fighting victory in the second test helped him on his way to cricketing immortality.

    Healy had lost form with the bat in the final few tests he played. Gilchrist had certainly established himself in the ODI team, including the winning World cup of 1999. He was the right person at the right time. Yet i always felt Healy was a better keeper. His mistakes behind the stumps were so few i can’t recall them, but i do have memories of Gilchrist putting down the occasional chance. However his bat compensated.

    Keep up the good work Sean.

    PS: I’m glad there was no mention of Joe the camera man! That was the same time.

    Glen!

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