Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Goodbye Gus

" ... and Gilmore's wielding willow like an axe."

So went a line from the most famous sporting jingo in Australia's history. Well, not any more.

The passing of Gus Gilmore gives pause to all blokes of my age. We were young impressionables in the first half of the 1970's at a time when robust men did robust things with a cricket ball and bat. Unlike the Chappells or Lillee or Marsh, Gilmore was no legend. Instead he was a man who did legendary things in between being ordinary just like the rest of us. As a result, he was to admired because few of us believed we could ever be a Chappell or a Lillee or a Marsh, but being Gus might have been possible. Like him, on our day, anything was possible.

Dead at 62, Gilmore was a man whose body and finally heart were broken by a life lived on his own terms and with little regard for self-control. After all, he emerged at a time when talent was more important than discipline, when smoking and drinking and eating what tasted good didn't kill you ... mostly because the science was yet to ruin our lives. In his final months, having enduring several health issues which threatened his life to the point of losing it, he had to also farewell his son to brain cancer.

Some cricketers are renowned for their figures. Bradman, for instance, whose batting average every kid swinging a Kanga bat for the first time knows, regardless of his ethnic background. It's Australia's greatest sporting statistic, even immortalised as the post office box of all ABC offices. Doug Walters 242 and 103 not out at the SCG against Gary Sobers Windies side ... the first double/single century in a Test match. Lillee 8-29 v Rest of the World. Write your own set.

For others, its just moments or sometimes a performance which remain for how is far more important than how many. Its being there and seeing it. Gilmore was one of those cricketers. I watched him - on the telly - blast 95 at Adelaide at a then unheard of run a ball rate against the the West Indies in January '76 as the tail watched from the other end. Twelve months later I could only read in the paper of his lone Test hundred at Christchurch, more than 80% of which came in boundaries. He was only outdone on that day by a Doug Walters double century but added 217 with the Dungog lad when Australia was in trouble against meager opposition. Most people will go even earlier than these performances and tout consecutive five wicket hauls in the semi final and final of the first World Cup. He was close to unplayable on those days, with a left hander's late inswing at decent pace.

Little wonder some thought of Alan Davidson as they watched him, for he was also fast handed in slips.

A mate of mine played his sole Shield game with Gilmore in January 1972. Both were on debut and as Dennis Lillee was taking that 8-29, they were part of a new ball attack against South Australia which included David Colley, with John Gleeson providing spin. As luck would have it, I was there on the Monday as NSW collapsed to 6-70 odd in their second innings. It was holidays and Shield games were good value. Now I wouldn't know Brian Rhodes for another fifteen years but I will never forget the batting I saw from Gilmore that day. If I was to look for a modern equivalent it would be Adam Gilchrist, for although he hit sweetly over the on side, it was the driving that captivated because, the way I had been educated about batting, any mug could hit high wide and handsome to cow corner.

On that day, at either end of the ground, Gilmore hit drives so hard that he twice knocked pickets off the fence. Of course, modern players might do the same but we'll never know as the crowds cower behind the thick, automated amusements for advertisers. One drive, going flat and straight, hit the top of the picket on the full and spun it spectacularly up into the air. At the other end, the ball went along the grass from blade to fence, seemed to hop at the last minute and broke the picket clean through about a third of the way up. The bottom third lay back, mortally wounded, the top dangled for a second and then dropped to the ground.

I looked the score up just now, 122 and his highest first class innings ... but it wasn't how many, it was how.

Gilmore's big time career ended too quickly. He was back playing first grade in Newcastle at 27. In a way, it was like he had too much talent and as Ian Chappell has said, not enough luck.

His style though, was all Saturday mug cricketer. My favourite story of the man was an incident from WSC days. Having tried to get twelfth man Ray Bright's attention for several overs of a cold day, he walked over to the stump mike, bent close and said "hey Brighty, where's my fuckin' jumper."

Vale Gus Gilmore. You lived too short a life but at least you lived it your way. All of us Saturday arvo cricketers applaud you.