At 41, Adam Gilchrist isn't getting any younger. If captaining an Indian Premier League franchise isn't tough enough, he has had to battle ageing reflexes while playing a mentoring role to young Indian players at Kings XI Punjab. He may not be at the height of his powers, but his experience and understanding of the game are worth their weight in gold. Wisden India caught up with Gilchrist to discuss the challenges of being a part of a franchise system, his role as a mentor, what's plaguing Australian cricket and more. Excerpts:
You announced last year that your playing career was over. What prompted a return?
I wasn't sure, to be honest. I thought I was ready to finish there but I went away and thought about it for quite some time. Also, I held some discussions with the franchise and they were keen on having me involved in the set-up in the final year of my contract. On reflection of the season I had last year where I missed a few games because of an injury, I thought it would be nice to come back and have one last go. Obviously my performances haven't been up to the mark this year and that has meant I've had to miss out on a few games, but it doesn't end there. There is a lot of involvement in terms of guiding and supporting the young players in the group. Hopefully if I play a few more games, the results will come my way. But looking back, the IPL experience has been wonderful. It has been a pleasure to be involved and given this opportunity to lead two franchises. I've really enjoyed playing and that is why I've kept coming back.
You've taken over the role of player-mentor. Since the team already has a coach, an assistant coach and a bowling coach, what aspects do you dwell on?
Probably not much different to what I doing while I was playing. From a coaching and mentoring perspective, it is about talking to all the players, from the senior most to the junior most, giving them my view on a certain aspect of the game which I think could have been executed better. I sit with the team management, coaches and give my input on the make-up of the team and tactical decisions. Like any senior player would and should do, it is important to develop young players because they're the backbone of the team. It is up to them to take whatever they can learn, pick up things in order to become better players. Getting to see the managerial side of cricket and observing things from the dugout is new and I'm learning as well.
You've spoken highly of Mandeep Singh and Manan Vohra. How do you see them shaping up?
I think those two and a lot of the others we see today are such polished cricketers at a young age. Mandeep and Manan have wonderful techniques and a terrific foundation. But we've to also understand that when caught up in the T20 frenzy, they're not the kind of players who necessarily have the power game like some of the big hitters. They're still young and that power will develop as they play more and more. What is very important when handling guys like these is, you don't want to tamper with the foundation they've got just to get instant results in T20 cricket.
How should one then go about working with these guys?
Manan has been in and around this group for the last two years. He wasn't able to get into the IPL then, but he has been patient. He has also been patient from the frustration of the Under-19 World Cup. He has shown a great appetite to learn. I've been talking to Manan about maintaining that discipline because that will allow him to develop into a far more accomplished allround cricketer for all formats of the game than just being a flashy T20 cricketer. I think that is where I look at those guys and look at the career in front of them, not just their IPL success.
Some of the retired stars have come into their own this year. Does Twenty20 cricket today demand a different kind of preparation than maybe five years back?
T20 continues to evolve. We've already seen two 30-ball hundreds this year which was unheard of before. I think to an extent you can continue to play in handpicked tournaments, but really the longer you're out of the game, the more you start to lose touch with the pace of the game and where it has moved to. At least that is how it has been in my case. The game moves on and it is terrific to see guys like Mike Hussey and Rahul Dravid do well. Mike's just into retirement and Rahul's just a couple of years into it. I retired five years ago and ~CHECK~ guess it's showing in the way I've performed. It does take a specific level of preparation.
From the IPL on to the Caribbean Premier League. How did that come about?
I was excited at the concept, when the proposal was put forward to me. It is very similar to how it was when I signed up for the IPL. None of us knew what it was quite going to be like. Looking forward to being involved there and take a step towards the betterment of West Indies cricket is something that got me going. Plus, the tournament is a lot shorter. The attractions of being involved with West Indies cricket were too good to let go. The Caribbean is a wonderful place to visit and play cricket and I have some fond memories of playing there, especially in a place like Barbados.
Does being involved in a franchise system put more pressure than when playing for the country?
The thing about IPL or any tournament these days is it is so result-focused. Every game is played with the intensity of a final. I can tell you that from the experience of having been involved with two franchises. All the more so because we haven't had the glamour star-studded line-ups. That has made every game important for us and that creates an intensity that makes it difficult to develop players at certain positions because the focus is only result oriented. That goes against your other cricketing areas, what we term as 'process', so yes it is definitely different.
Switching focus, Australian cricket has seen a gradual shift from traditional powerhouses like New South Wales and Western Australia to Tasmania. What would you attribute this to?
Everything sort of goes in cycles to an extent but these days there is a lot more player movement within states. Twenty years ago, I don't recall quite as much players swapping states to bolster a side. But I also think their foundation has stemmed from the growth and development of their home grown players, well illustrated by the example of James Faulkner, who has now made it through to the Ashes squad. They've had a terrific group coming through, well supported by a couple of players who've come from other states. All the development done in the 80s and 90s is now beginning to show. Going into the last round of the Sheffield Shield, at least five teams were in a position to win it, so that shows the level of competition.
Would it be fair to say that the Australian team is in a crisis right now, especially after the entire homework gate incident? Do you think it has shifted focus from the team to individuals?
There is no doubt that questions are being asked from all quarters. They are looking for answers but for that, you'll have to build stability within the group. And unfortunately, there hasn't been too much of that, whether its within the team or selection or between the team and the administration. So that is the challenge that is opposing them and obviously they've got back-to-back Ashes series which is going to be a very difficult proposition. No doubt it is a challenging time for Australian cricket but I've got no doubt that they're all trying to step in the right direction.
Do you think the board and team management could have handled it differently?
As an outsider, you'd probably say the entire issue could have been handled better. I'm not completely qualified to make a judgement purely because I'm not sure of the finer details but definitely it didn't come out well publicly. A whole host of that issue didn't come across well. Not just the management but also the way some of the players reacted, I thought could have been different. But it led everyone to believe from outside that there are some significant issues that need to be sorted.
Does that automatically mean England start favourites?
I think England start favourites but history shows that with some setbacks come opportunity. In 1989, Allan Border and a young team went about to win the Ashes and turned Australian cricket's trajectory in the 90s and then build a team that dominated for nearly 20 years, so yes there is an opportunity definitely. But for that, they'll have to put everything behind them and focus, regroup and play as a team. I've got no doubt if they do that, they'll be back on track.
You were a part of a team that dominated all forms of cricket for more than a decade. Do you think teams of today can replicate that?
I don't see any team in the world dominating world cricket because they're all evenly matched. England and South Africa play world conditions as well as anyone at the moment. We've seen that with England winning in India and South Africa winning in England. But those two apart, other sides like India and Australia are also not too far behind. The top three-four sides are all evenly matched. So I don't quite think there could be a sustained era of dominance any time soon, but yes, the two Ashes series this year will give us a hint.
What does the Ashes mean to an Australian cricketer? Why is an Ashes win rated above the World Cup?
The Ashes is a series you want on your resume as as Australian cricketer. I remember being more nervous in my first Ashes Test, which was a good 11-12 games into my career, than on my Test debut. That just tells you how big it is for an Australian or English cricketer. The pressure associated with it is unimaginable. I remember considering retirement in the 2006 series because I had a horrendous tour of England in 2005. So it is huge, medias of both countries, the fans, the players...everyone's focus is on you, so that is why perhaps we treat is with such importance. As for my Ashes predictions, I'll leave that to my good friend Glenn McGrath!