Nearing 38, with a sore back and some sudden run-ins with a string of low scores in T20s, a format he so cherishes, life hasn’t particularly been excellent for the Universe Boss.
The phenomenon of occurrence of a ‘Gayle-storm’- usually sudden and bitter in its wreckage of opponents- has nowadays been replaced by a lull in scoring that’s rather unexpected for a batsman one’s got used to seeing to clobber sixes at will.
Miscued pulls, half-hearted flicks and, on other occasions, utterly lackadaisical hits and misses; IPL 10 has magnified a rather rare dry patch in Gayle’s performances that have seen him conjure no more than 144 runs from 5 games so far.
It, of course, didn’t help that just days before the Royal Challengers- a side that Gayle’s contributed richly to as much as it’s given him an inlet of massive expression- ridiculed themselves when they collapsed for 49. In a new dubious record, Gayle’s score of 7 rather scampered under the carpet amidst a shocking collapse that wilted his side’s promising willowers.
But before the shocker and post his rather ordinary beginnings in the current IPL, on April 18, Gayle had his moment.
A big one; a rather extraordinary day of reckoning whose saplings- of hard work and toil- had been spread by the big man a decade ago, when he announced his big arrival on the T20 stage, when he produced a milestone maiden hundred against South Africa, in 2007. In going past the 10,000 run mark in the T20 format, Gayle flexed his muscles as the format’s greatest batsman where statistics are concerned and also became the first man to ever do so.
While T20 lamenters won’t regard that much, by no measure is reaching 10,000 run mark, not an indicator of having climbed a tall order. Some would say this new Gayle milestone- in every wake, the greatest of his career came against the backdrop of a funny irony; that of the left-hander not being able to score as freely as he’s been in cricket’s briefest format.
But those who’ve seriously examined his career would dig well beyond the man who goes by the adage of ‘six machine’ especially for his T20 exploits. In hitting 22 ODI centuries for the West Indies, 3 more than Brian Lara, he’s recorded his name as not only West Indies’ maximum century maker but by notching up two triple hundreds, long before he arose as a force to reckon with (in T20s), Gayle’s sculpted a behemoth model of astonishing run making in the modern day game. Whether you critique the bling master renowned for a not so sedate lifestyle where not letting the hair down is considered passé or mock him for his clowning; a facet Gayle considers necessary for ‘living it up’, you cannot take away those records and massive scores.
The mind takes a bit of time to get used to an incredible Gayle hit; that of having blasted T20 cricket’s maximum tally of sixes, a record 749, as on April 18.
That said, it isn’t too shocking to read that Chris Gayle and his likes- Pollard, Bravo, Sammy, Narine and, if current trend indicates, then Darren Bravo and Marlon Samuels are often bracketed as freelancing T20 mercenaries, with Pollard already expressing distaste for a term he labeled ‘repressing’ and ‘demeaning’. Whatever it might be, Gayle hardly seems bothered. He’s got a far bigger challenge to answer: despite his fluent 77 that came against Gujaratweres where needing just 3 runs to become the first ever cricketer to scale mount 10,000 in T20s, does Gayle need to worry about his RCB future?
With the side having already lost a point to the rain-affected tie against the Sunrisers and having already found the blunt edge of their bats in their record scampering of 49, how curious would Virat Kohli be about Gayle’s place in the side?
That said, having scored only 22, 6 and 7 beside that singular fifty, is Gayle’s willow pointing to a dry patch? One, that perhaps may signal a tight analysis of his otherwise freely flowing freelancing career as a menacing bit hitter? If the RCB happen to miss out on the play-offs, then one of the defaulters of their fate would certainly have to be Christopher Henry Gayle, apart from the likes of Virat and AB. Off course, it hasn’t helped that Watson has either not played every contest and not scored at all when given a chance.
Above everything, why is there so less talk about a possible hint toward a T20 burnout that Gayle’s aching muscles and visibly lackluster form suggested? From 2007 to this point, in a decade of globetrotting, heart pumping and exceedingly interesting sojourn, this experienced marksman has played a whopping 291 T20 matches. Given that the likes of- Waqar Younis, Brett Lee, Dwayne Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and, Mitchell Johnson- a random assortment of Gayle’s contemporaries have featured in far less ODIs than the T20s Gayle’s played- at a time when T20s arrived much later in 2007, indicates the massive workload Gayle’s been entrusting his body to.
The number of centuries he has struck in the briefest format, 18, way more than what some prominent ODI batsmen have managed, whilst playing more games than Chris Gayle; such as McCullum, Afridi, Brian Lara, Jayawardene. Not mere names rather cricketing cornerstones.
That Gayle has represented and changed the fortunes of many a T20 side- precisely 14- including Australia’s Big Bash League; Sydney Thunders, Western Australia and Melbourne Renegades, West Indies’ Caribbean Premier League; Jamaica Tallawahs and Caribbean T20s, England’s Somerset, India’s checkered IPL; KKR and RCB, Pakistan’s PCL; Karachi Kings, Lahore Qalandars, Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland Tuskers and, Bangladesh’s BPL; Barisal Burners, Chittagong Vikings and Dhaka Gladiators- speaks of a life that he’s often lived out of a suitcase, especially at the outset of 2010’s clash with West Indies Cricket Board.
But Gayle’s bag has been one that could be likened to opening a Pandora’s suitcase; enthralling hits sending best bowlers out of the ground like a pack of flies removed by a lion from its meal during hunting season. In there, lie a few regrettable albeit playful moments; such as the infamous 2016 January incident with Mel McLaughlin.
Whether you see it as Gayle’s jovial and harmless persona that often masks itself inexplicably under a demonic appeal or rule it out as a blinder that went too far rather needlessly- the Jamaican has inflated the best of economical bowling rates, sent bowlers into a tizzy and might have secretly haunted pacers and slow bowlers alike like the bogeyman who exudes horror in our worst nightmares. Even as statistics show that Gayle collected a significant margin of his runs from 2011-2016 beginning, when he looked not just the most monstrous, putting the bat to ball like a Spartan on a ruthless mission, the last year or so seem to suggest the big body being on a backburner.
But this is Christopher Henry Gayle. When going on song, on an odd day a 175 runs arrive from mere 66 balls. And when least expected, with guys like Pollard, Russell, Brathwaitte around, the latter who took Windies to a record 2nd World T20 title, Gayle’s willow still mercilessly hounds as it undid England with a 100 off 48.
Off course, its completely another thing that in his wake there are upsets too, such as being the only scorer of a record unbeaten 151 and still ending up on the losing side as Somerset went down to Kent on, May 2015. But perhaps all of us know that being of funny one track mind, Gayle doesn’t really mind. He just knows how to get going. Perhaps in that mind-space he notched up a 50 off just 12 balls (featuring 7 sixes) in BBL 2016, for Melbourne Renegades. Though, as fans, we would hope the six-hitting spree continues, whether Gayle cares for his outfits’ result or his own. Legend says when you watch out how you’re faring, things generally end up being fine.