GILMOUR, GARY JOHN, died on June 10, aged 62. A cursory glance at “Gus” Gilmour’s career figures might suggest a cricketer who never rose to great heights but turned in the odd useful performance. That would miss the point: knowing his ability to explode with bat or ball, crowds always hoped he might do so the day they were there. They were often disappointed, but Gilmour provided many memorable moments. He exuded natural talent, and communicated his enjoyment of cricket as an uncluttered game. When the modern regime of super-coaches, dieticians and shiny-suited media advisors finally arrived, he observed: “Some mornings you get up and don’t want to go to work – that’s how I’d feel playing cricket these days. I’d clock on for a sickie.” Journalist Malcolm Knox encapsulated his approach: “He showed, without words or facial hair, how cricket could make you happy.”
Gilmour was born and raised in Newcastle, a once-industrial city 100 miles north of Sydney. His sporting talent was soon obvious: a fine rugby player, and a baseballer who was offered a scholarship to Washington University. But cricket was his first love. He represented New South Wales at the Australian primary schools’ championships in Brisbane in 1964-65, and at Newcastle Boys HS played in several local representative sides against touring teams; at 17, against the 1968-69 West Indians, he handed out some rough treatment to Garry Sobers, with a rapid 55. He had a fertile tour of the Caribbean with the Australian Schoolboys; against Trinidad Under-19s he hit a 72-minute century and took six for 25.
His first Sheffield Shield appearance, at the SCG in 1971-72, brought a holiday crowd to their feet. After a feisty 40 in the first innings, Gilmour used his bat like an axe in the second, chopping the South Australian attack to pieces with 122 from 136 balls, including a century in the afternoon session. Bill O’Reilly described his batting as “courageous and pugnacious”, and “of the gumleaf, rural vintage”. Against the same opposition, at Adelaide, Gilmour bowled throughout the second innings, taking four for 69 as South Australia scraped home by two wickets. These early games summed up his cricket: no holds barred, and glimpses of the extraordinary.
Gilmour made his Test debut against New Zealand at Melbourne in 1973-74, walloping 52 not out in just over an hour, and taking four for 75. In the return series in New Zealand, he bowled unchanged to claim five for 64 at Auckland, cleverly exploiting the cloud cover with his left-armers. Next season, though, his bowling went off the boil, and it was Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Max Walker who shattered England. Still, Gilmour claimed a place on the 1975 England tour, which included the first World Cup and the Ashes.
He was not selected until the semi-final against England at Headingley, where the pitch was a lush green, the weather overcast and humid, and a fresh breeze blew across the ground. Gilmour gave thanks, and – bowling his 12 overs off the reel – bagged six for 14. Keeping a good length, he swung the ball both ways, villainously late: umpire David Constant upheld four lbws in quick succession. Gilmour hadn’t finished. Chasing only 94, Australia were soon 39 for six. In he strode, to join his mate Doug Walters, and settled the issue with a run-a-ball 28. Then, in the epic final at Lord’s, Gilmour took five for 48, including Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards to slow West Indies down, though he couldn’t prevent an Australian defeat. Gilmour played just once in the four-Test Ashes that followed, taking nine wickets back at Headingley, where the last day was lost after vandals dug up the pitch. Earlier, he had taken a liking to Sussex left-arm spinner Chris Waller at Hove, larruping him for 28 in an over as he sped to 102 in 75 minutes.
Back in Australia, Gilmour started slowly in the Tests against West Indies, but in the Fifth blazed 95 from 94 balls. He then took five for 34 at Melbourne, which left West Indies almost 200 behind and facing a fifth defeat out of six. In 1976-77, he made his only Test century – 101 at Christchurch – helping Walters (who made 250) hammer a tiring attack during a seventh-wicket partnership of 217, still a national record. It was, according to captain Greg Chappell, “a sensational display of powerful, intelligent hitting”. Gilmour seemed at last to have cemented a place – but started to pick up injuries, and played in the Centenary Test against England in March 1977 with a broken foot. After an unsurprisingly lacklustre performance he was not selected for the subsequent Ashes tour, learning of his omission on the car radio.
World Series Cricket seemed tailor-made for him, but its incessant demands sapped his vitality. Unable to hold down a regular spot in the first-choice Australian side, he was consigned to the drag of the country caravan as the second-stringers spread Kerry Packer’s gospel to the outposts. Gilmour maintained his casual air, but he took it hard, and his appetite for cricket waned. After two matches back for NSW in 1979-80, the first post- Packer season, he slipped out of the first-class game. He was not yet 29.
Ian Chappell said Gilmour “was at the front of the queue when they handed out talent, and hiding behind the door when luck was being handed out”. Ill-health dogged him: he needed a liver transplant in 2005, for which Chappell helped raise funds. A further nine years of suffering were made worse by the death of his son, Clint, from a brain tumour in March 2014. Three months later, Gilmour himself was gone. Walters summed him up: “He never really knew how talented he was, but he played cricket for the right reason – he loved it.”
This article was published in the Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack 2015. You can buy it here.