The last time the Ferozeshah Kotla hosted a cricket match,three struggling senior citizens batted their way back into form. Adam Gilchrist,at 41,is older than Sachin Tendulkar (who is on the verge of joining him in the fortysomethings club),Mahela Jayawardene or Virender Sehwag. And unlike those three,he isn’t an active international cricketer any more,having last donned an Australia shirt five years ago.
But coming into Kings XI Punjab’s clash against Delhi Daredevils,Gilchrist will hope that all those differences don’t exempt him from the Kotla’s healing effect. He is certainly in dire need of it. This season,he has batted six times and scored 15,9,0,7,26 and 4.
Last season,Gilchrist missed a month of the IPL with the hamstring injury,and played only seven matches for Punjab. At the end of the last one,against Delhi Daredevils at Dharamsala,he hinted that he wouldn’t be coming back as a player.
I would say I’ve played my last game of cricket just there, he had said,adding that he would love to come back in a coaching role. Gilchrist also said that he hadn’t really missed playing when injury had kept him out. I didn’t have the horrible desire that I was missing out, he said. There isn’t that fire burning in my belly quite like it used to. I have to think about it but I just feel I won’t be playing.
And yet,here he is,leading Punjab once again,tapping his gloves together with the same bouncy energy behind the stumps,and swatting the ball over deep square leg with the same sort of swivelling,left-handed abandon,except that the last sight has been all too rare.
After Punjab’s last match,a thrilling seven-wicket win over Pune Warriors to which he had contributed four runs,a catch and an unedifying dropped chance,Gilchrist himself admitted that he had been far from his best. It might have been more productive for me to stay in bed all day. Gilchrist also said that his place had come under scrutiny,and that he might consider dropping himself if he thought that would serve Punjab better.
If we think we can get a better player,absolutely, he said. No one’s necessarily always safe and the good thing is we’ve got some options there.
Ahead of the Pune clash,one of these options returned to training,after missing the first part of the season with a knee injury. Shaun Marsh,an ever-present in Punjab’s squad since the inaugural 2008 season,has been their highest run-scorer by far,with 1603 runs,including a century and 13 half-centuries,at an average of 45.80 the second-highest in the IPL behind Chris Gayle,among all players who have batted more than 10 times and a more than healthy strike rate of 135.95. It would be a no-brainer for Gilchrist to leave himself out for Marsh.
But he won’t do that on Tuesday. On the eve of the match,Punjab coach Darren Lehmann said that Marsh is still a little short of regaining full match fitness. He is still 3-4 days away from that, Lehmann said. In a tournament like the IPL you can’t risk that. So once he is fully fit and gets into the fielding drills and running between the wickets he will be available.
Going by that estimate,Gilchrist has a maximum of two matches,and possibly just one,to prove that he merits a place in the side ahead of Azhar Mahmood,David Hussey or David Miller. It seems a difficult ask; all three have made important contributions this season. Last year,Punjab versus Delhi proved a false farewell. It might be the real thing this time around.