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Jan 2, 2005

At the Crease with Adam Gilchrist

There’s been a return to old-fashioned values in sport, it seems. And despite contrary economic pressure, it appears it is catching, suggests Signs online editor Scott Wegener.
Signs of the Times cover article, January/February 2005.

The Australian cricket team’s wicket-keeper/ batsman, Adam Gilchrist, is among the most exciting players in cricket today. He scores just as many runs as the best of batsmen, but usually at such an explosive rate that bowlers might wish they’d never walked onto the field. Recently, however, Adam Gilchrist has not only become an ambassador for a major aid organisation, but also decided to exchange one of cricket’s long-accepted practices for honesty.

Sport is no longer simply about exercise and entertainment; it’s big business, with increasing pressures for success. The more success a team has, the more sponsorship gained and merchandise sold. The more outstanding the performance, the more sponsors are willing to pay for association and endorsements. These pressures have increased to a point that leads many to a literal “succeed-at-any-cost” attitude, which sometimes means sweeping sportsmanship aside.

Examples of deception for success in sport are found in many places, from those who take an animated dive in soccer in a theatrical appeal for a free kick, to the drug-taking in the Olympic weightlifting, trying to gain that 1 per cent over their opponent in their quest for gold.

Even in cricket.

In the game of cricket, if the umpire rules you’re not out, a batsman can—and usually will—stay at the crease, continuing to bat, even if they know personally that they should have been declared out.

Overruling the umpire and voluntarily proclaiming yourself out, or “walking,” as it’s called, is a quite legal yet unthinkable option for almost any and every batsmen in contemporary cricket. However, despite the pressure for success, Gilchrist did just that; he walked.

In the 2003 World Cup semifinal against Sri Lanka, played in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Gilchrist had made 22 off 19 deliveries. However, the next delivery, Gilchrist mistimed his stroke and the ball came off his pad and went through to the wicket-keeper, who caught it.

“‘Catch it! Catch it!’ I heard, and turned to see Sangakarra had it,” says Gilchrist recalling the moment. “I knew I was done. It was so obvious.” Knowing he was legitimately out, Gilchrist looked up at the umpire, but saw him shaking his head, mistakenly declaring him not out.

Gilchrist says he thinks that somewhere in the back of his mind must have been recollections of batsmen who stood their ground, successfully bluffing the umpire that they hadn’t hit the ball, in the previous Ashes series.

“I’d spent all summer wondering what I would do and if it were possible to take ownership of these incidents and still be successful,” he says. “The voice in my head at that moment was emphatic: Go! Walk! And I did.”

Arriving back to the dressing rooms, he found his team-mates stunned by his concession. “They were flabbergasted that I’d do it in a World Cup semifinal,” he says.

While he sat pondering what he’d done, Gilchrist says he kept going back to the fact that, at the end of the day, he had been honest with himself. “I felt it was time that players make a stand to take back responsibility for the game. I was at ease with that. The more I thought about it, the more settled I became with what I’d done.”

Further into Australia’s batting innings, the team was getting into trouble and doubt started to fill Gilchrist’s mind over his gift to their opponents.

“Haven’t I, too, been wrongly given out countless times? I thought. Shouldn’t I have just taken today’s decision as payback? It’s not as though I haven’t stood my ground in the past.”

As well as his concern for how he had impacted the team, Gilchrist also worried about the umpire, effectively declaring to everyone watching, “You got it wrong!”

At the team celebrations, after Australia ended the game with a comfortable win, Gilchrist sought out umpire Koertzen, who had given the ‘not-out’ decision. “I told him that I hoped I hadn’t put him in an awkward position with my decision to walk. ‘No, no,’ he said. ‘Quite the opposite. Congratulations! It took a lot to do what you did and we’d all be better off if there was more of it.’ That brought relief to me.”

The next morning, Gilchrist had numerous radio and press interviews about his walk and met much criticism from various people. “It seemed as if this is now a world where doing the right thing is not the right thing.”

A year on, Gilchrist appeared to have started the trend of honesty in cricket, and not only among the Australian team. During the second Test played on Australia’s India tour late last year, Gilchrist was again quick to walk when he knew he was out, not waiting for the umpire to decide. This time, however, in the same innings Jason Gillespie also walked without an umpire’s decision; next Michael Kasprowicz went against umpire Shepard’s “not-out” call and walked. Indian opponents Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Sing also joined the walkathon in their innings.

“There’s no team policy,” says Gilchrist. “It’s an individual thing about how you want to play the game. But it’s rubbing off. It’s got to be a positive thing for cricket.”

Amazingly, there has been a reaction opposing this emerging honesty. There still seems to be support for batsman using their best poker face to remain at the crease when actually out. Over the years the argument was that batsmen stood their ground because they’d been given out incorrectly on other occasions, having to leave. It seems that a mind-set of honesty going out the window is OK if you have been hard done by in the past. Two wrongs even things out.

Currently it seems most players still hold the view of standing their ground. New Zealand cricket sensation Chris Cairns says, “I wouldn’t walk unless I’m given out. The umpires are there to do a job and I leave it to them.”

Former Australian captain Ian Chappell, brother of the Greg Chappell involved in the still-remembered, infamous and unsporting underarm delivery against New Zealand, says, “I was a confirmed non-walker and could easily live with the fact that I was asking an umpire to perform a job he is paid to do. I didn’t and still don’t, regard that as cheating.”

However, umpire David Shepard, who gave Kasprowicz not out, praises such a decision, even though it stumped him at the time, saying, “It’s a tremendous thing when a batsman walks. Any batsman who doesn’t walk knows he is doing the wrong thing.” Umpire Shepard denies suggestions that that the honesty-first policy will make a mockery of umpires’ decisions. “Its nonsense. The game’s bigger then the umpires.”

But there is something that Adam Gilchrist is not walking away from, and that’s his social responsibility. He’s developed an appreciation for what he has in life compared with the needs of the multitudes living in poverty. Recently he was appointed an ambassador for the global charity World Vision.

In 2003 Gilchrist left his luxury hotel to visit back streets of Mumbai, India, where girls are forced into prostitution through poverty. “It was something I’ll never forget. . . . It was a wonderful opportunity to appreciate all I’ve got, and to get into perspective what it is that I do, what a dropped catch or bad umpiring decision means. It means very little.”

In between matches, Gilchrist used his royal-like status among cricket-loving Indians to bring cheer to a slum community in Chennai, a city with a population of eight million people of whom more than a third live in slums. “This tour has special meaning this time, as I’ve seen the other side of India and experienced the poverty that impacts so many children here,” he says.

Gilchrist was instantly mobbed by hundreds of disbelieving fans when he arrived, each wanted nothing more than to simply touch him and see if he was real. The initial plan for the visit was for Gilchrist to play some street cricket, but with some 200 people crowding around, this was an impossibility.

“Cricket is such a major part of life in India and Steve Waugh showed me that cricketers have great power in India and have the opportunity to make a difference,” he says.

“I hope that my visit has increased awareness for the need for Australians to support organisations like World Vision that are working to help children build a better life.” When Gilchrist was young, his parents sponsored a World Vision child. He says he didn’t really understand the full implications of that until his visit to Mumbia.

He visited the New Hope Project centre, in Chennai, where World Vision organisers are helping a slum where hundreds of families live six or seven people to one room.

“It’s important for Australians to see that they can make a positive impact on the world we live in and that we are all part of a global community.”

And beyond cricket, that is just what he’s seeking to do.

Sources:
Adam Gilchrist—Walking to Victory, Crickinfo, Herald Sun, India Times, Fox Sports, The Australian, The Telegraph (India), World Vision, ABC Online

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