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How Emery nearly stopped Gilchrist's star from rising

Author: Will Swanton
Date: 06/11/2005
Words: 936
Source: SHD
          Publication: Sun Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 112
Fate nearly cast the best keeper-batsman as perpetual second fiddle, reveals Will Swanton

PHIL Emery has a claim to fame. And it's a good 'un. He's the man whose glovework was so good in the early 1990s the greatest wicketkeeper-batsman in history had to move to the other side of the country because he couldn't get a game for NSW.

As far as overshadowing a legend goes, it's up there with bumping Donald Bradman down the order when you're available to bat at No.3.

"The reason was simple," former NSW coach Steve Rixon said during the week. "Phil was better."

Adam Gilchrist moved to WA for the 1994-95 season, made his Test debut four years later and has been rewriting the records since: 74 Tests before the series opener against West Indies, 4728 runs, at an average of 52.23 with 15 centuries.

But there was a time he wasn't good enough for the Blues, and nowhere near good enough to get past Emery.

They first met at a hotel in Neutral Bay, Sydney, in 1990. "I'd been playing a one-day game for NSW at North Sydney Oval," Emery said. "We won and we were up at the pub. I ran into Trevor Chappell, who used to play at Gordon with me. We were talking about grade cricket and I said, 'How did Gordon go today?'

"He said, 'Why don't you ask this bloke?' I looked at him no idea who he was. I asked him, 'How did Gordon go?' He went, 'So-and-so did this, so-and-so did that'. He started rattling off a few nicknames. 'Stevo scored this many and I got 40-odd'.

"I looked at him and said, 'Who are you?' He said he was the Gordon keeper. I went: 'What, am I out of a job already?' At that point Trevor Chappell looked at us and said: 'You two don't know each other, do you? This is Adam Gilchrist'."

Gilchrist, 18, went red. "He was all embarrassed," Emery said. "I said, 'Nah, mate, it's all right, I've heard about you,' and we had a beer.

"He kept for Gordon when I was playing Shield cricket. He'd bat five, six or seven when I came back to keep. He played two years for us, went to the academy and we didn't see him for a while, then he came back and wanted to continue with his keeping.

"He was in the Australian under-19s team. He went to Northern Districts for a couple of years. He still hadn't scored a first-grade hundred but we picked him in the NSW side."

Gilchrist batted at No.3 for the Blues in the 1992-93 Sheffield Shield final, but failed to make the team for the decider the following year. Crunch time. He was no chance of being the Blues' keeper while Emery was around but didn't want to be solely a batsman.

"I remember him batting in his first game for NSW," Emery said. "He got 70-odd. Tim Zoehrer was bowling.

"All the WA players were into Gilly because he was a kid. Adam said, 'I reckon I can hit him for six'. I went, 'Well, go for it'. He's come down and whacked Zoehrer out of the ground. And then he whacked another one out of the ground.

"He was 13th man for the final the next year. It was a young team but he didn't get in. He wasn't playing great. At the end of the year he asked me, 'What are you intending to do?"'

Emery said he had no plans to retire.

"I would have been 28, and I was captain of NSW," he said. "He said, 'I'm thinking about moving'. I said, 'Mate, I'm going to keep playing for a while' and he said 'Well, I'm off'. I told him that made sense and we talked about where he might go.

"We got on very well. I actually said to him, 'When I stop playing, all things being equal, I'll give you a call'. And I did I rang him some years later.

"I had just had a pterygium done, had surgery to cut this thing out of my eye. It was a couple of needles in the eye, scraping and cutting . . . It's like the dentist as soon as you pay the bill the anaesthetic wears off. I was outside waiting for my wife to pick me up and I thought I may as well ring Gilly.

"I was mainly telling him about my eye and his. Gilly's got pterygiums and they're quite bad. I rang him and told him I was retiring and I'd just had this pterygium done, you've got to get yours done.

"The anaesthetic was wearing off and it bloody hurt. I started crying. He said 'How are you going, mate? and I said, 'I'm in tears, this is really painful'.

"When I saw him next, he said, 'Thanks for the call, you were getting a bit emotional about not playing any more'," Emery said. "I said, 'What?' He said, 'You were crying, mate. It was really touching'. I said, 'You idiot, I'd just had a scalpel in my eye'."

Gilchrist told Emery he was settled in WA and wouldn't return to NSW. He is now regarded as the best keeper-batsman the game has produced. Not the best gloveman the most complete package.

In the early 1990s he was good, but he was no Phil Emery.

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