Pringle: Gayle is T20’s pin-up boy

The Cricket Paper - - FRONT PAGE - DEREK PRINGLE

By post­ing 10,000 runs in Twenty20 cricket, Chris Gayle has taken a for­mat still lin­ger­ing in nov­elty firmly into the main­stream. It is a fit­ting sym­bio­sis, both hav­ing needed the other as they swept aside cricket’s old world val­ues in a whirl of fame, wealth and bling.

For Gayle, T20 has prob­a­bly been the pre-em­i­nent form of cricket for a while now, bring­ing him riches and renown be­yond his wildest fan­tasies as a ‘mere’ West Indies crick­eter. Like a bat­ting Darth Vader, he has be­strid­den the short­est game like a ma­lign colos­sus, wield­ing his bat not with the dex­trous fa­cil­ity of a lightsaber, but with the blud­geon­ing force of a sledge­ham­mer.

Power can be a thrilling spec­ta­cle on a sports field, but Gayle’s strength pos­sesses a bru­tal qual­ity that can de­stroy a bowler’s will. In the last World T20 in In­dia, Eng­land only lost to the West Indies, in­clud­ing the fi­nal. Gayle didn’t fea­ture in that, but he won the first-round match against them almost sin­gle-hand­edly with an un­beaten 100, his dis­man­tling of Eng­land’s bowlers forc­ing a re­think as to who might best be de­ployed for the re­main­der of the tour­na­ment.

Gayle was T20’s poster boy right from the start, nail­ing his short-form colours to the mast with his in­fa­mous, “I wouldn’t be sad” re­ply to the hy­po­thet­i­cal ques­tion: what if Test cricket died? That was in 2009, and he was West Indies Test cap­tain at the time, so it did not go down well. But while many of his con­tem­po­raries around the world played to the gallery by declar­ing their abid­ing love for the longer for­mat, Gayle, even if you dis­agreed with him, was re­fresh­ingly hon­est about where his pri­or­i­ties lay.

He reached the 10,000-run mile­stone play­ing for Royal Chal­lengers Ban­ga­lore against Gu­jarat Lions in the In­dian Premier League on Tues­day, an en­counter RCB won. It was his 290th T20 match, which means he av­er­ages 34.5 runs a match at a strike-rate of 149.5 – eas­ier to do when you open the in­nings as he does, but still an in­cred­i­ble feat given the con­stant risks re­quired in that form of the game.

In the match, he made 77 off 33 balls, an in­nings which in­cluded seven sixes and five fours. It also con­tained the un­usual, for him at least, run­ning of three quick sin­gles in the open­ing over, the last of which brought him to 10,000 runs – which sug­gests he was savvy to the sit­u­a­tion.

As much a fea­ture as his mighty ball-striking has been his re­luc­tance to run be­tween the wick­ets. Twos and threes are rare any­way in T20 cricket, but for Gayle they are col­lec­tors’ items. Like Friedrich Ni­et­zsche’s Su­per­man, his motto seems to be: “Never steal when one can plun­der.”

The fig­ures back it up, too, and when you have taken ac­count of the 743 sixes and 769 fours he has struck in those 290 games, you dis­cover, on av­er­age, that

For Gayle, T20 has been the pre-em­i­nent form of the game for a while, bring­ing him riches and renown be­yond his wildest fan­tasies

just 8.75 runs a match (just over 25 per cent) did not come from bound­aries.

He also takes time to play him­self in, a statis­tic in this year’s IPL re­veal­ing him to have the low­est strike-rate of all open­ers in the tour­na­ment who have faced at least 50 balls. It is de­lib­er­ate. Whereas the younger Gayle was im­petu­ous and ea­ger to hit hard from the off, the ma­ture one takes his time un­til he is see­ing it well, safe in the knowl­edge that no bowler can con­strain him and that he can catch up with the run-rate at the back end of his in­nings. Dot-dot-bash­bash, it is Morse Code for ‘Gayle is at the crease’.

He needs to savour it for it ap­pears that the rov­ing life of a T20 buc­ca­neer is all he has got, at the age of 37, now the West Indies’ se­lec­tors ap­pear to have lost his num­ber. Although he has clocked up 103 Tests and 269 one-day in­ter­na­tion­als, he has not been picked for ei­ther for­mat in the last two years. In­deed, he has not fea­tured in a T20 in­ter­na­tional for the past 12 months, not since the West Indies’ ac­ri­mo­nious vic­tory in the World T20. Na­tional duty, it seems, has been dis­pensed with, at least by one of the par­ties in­volved.

The stance of the West Indies Board is the op­po­site to that taken by An­drew Strauss, the Eng­land and Wales Cricket Board’s di­rec­tor of Eng­land cricket. Just as many Test-play­ing coun­tries were ea­ger to im­plant their bet­ter play­ers in English county cricket dur­ing the 1980s, in or­der for them to im­prove by ex­pe­ri­enc­ing dif­fer­ent con­di­tions as well as an in­creased vol­ume of cricket, so Strauss has en­cour­aged Eng­land’s more promis­ing T20 play­ers to take part in the IPL, with­out prej­u­dice. It is a never-mind-the-qual­ity-feel-the-quan­tity sort of ar­gu­ment, though one that has se­duced many of West Indies’ best play­ers to the detri­ment of the na­tional team.

What is in­ter­est­ing, given the in­no­va­tion that T20 con­stantly throws up, is how lit­tle Gayle has changed his ap­proach. As men­tioned, he takes his time a bit more than he used to, but not for him the ac­qui­si­tion of ramp and dink shots that make bowl­ing even good-look­ing york­ers such a night­mare for today’s T20 bowler. In­stead, he re­lies on in­tim­i­da­tion to force the bowler into er­ror, nerves be­ing a bet­ter gen­er­a­tor of ‘hit-me’ balls than nifty foot­work.

A bit like Tiger Woods’ sinew-strain­ing golf swing, his fail­ure to evolve as a bats­man might cost him. In­deed, he was only able to post his 10,000th run be­cause AB de Vil­liers fell ill be­fore the match, al­low­ing him the stage once more. But peo­ple have writ­ten Gayle off be­fore only to be chas­tened by his thun­der­ous re­turn.

Any­way, as a de­stroyer of bowlers, Gayle re­mains a phe­nom­e­non and while T20 re­tains the glad­i­a­to­rial flavour of the Coli­seum, and sixes still bring the screams, there will al­ways be de­mand for big-hit­ters like him.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.