The first time Jason Gillespie scored a
half-century, against New Zealand in 2004, he rode his bat up and down the
pitch as if it were a horse. Career bunny Glenn McGrath got 61 in the same
innings, and we all had a bit of a chuckle. It may have been during the same
series that Gillespie took to doing wild bird impersonations during his run-up
to put off opposing batsmen.

Yesterday was a different matter
altogether. Having spent eight months in the wilderness after his catastrophic
crisis of confidence during last year’s Ashes, the horse and bird have been
retired, the mullet is gone and Jason Gillespie looks like a cricket player
working desperately to eliminate any reason to be dropped.

The Australian cricket team has a different
look to it these days, and I’m not talking about the three specialist spinners
playing in Chittagong. Since the loss of the Ashes and the – some would say –
erratic selection roundabout in both forms of the game that followed, it has
become less certain that any but the most senior players will automatically
cruise into the next squad.

The bowling ranks have been particularly
affected in Glenn McGrath’s absence, and this is why Jason Gillespie,
unexpectedly chosen for two Tests on some of the least bowler-friendly pitches
on earth, is making his batting count. Competition for the role of ranking
tail-end batsman has become one of the most hard-fought races within the Test
team; Shane Warne, Brett Lee, McGrath and now Gillespie all have high scores
over 60. Lee’s batting has improved even faster than his bowling, especially
since he and Warne were so frequently left to drag Australia to a respectable score
during the Ashes.

It is possible to overstate this – Warne
and McGrath, after all, are locked in a battle for the record for most career
ducks – but Gillespie’s nightwatchman century is an indicator of his eagerness
to prove, with only two days of Test cricket to go before the Ashes (even if they
are against Bangladesh), that he is more than just a horse, a bird or a mullet.

Peter Fray

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