23rd April, 2013

Royal Challengers Bangalore v/s Pune Warriors India

Chinnaswamy stadium, Bangalore

Form Guide: Irrelevant

On day 1 of IPL-1 (2008), Brendon McCullum destroyed a clueless Royal Challengers Bangalore team with a record-smashing 157 not out. The Indian Premier League began in such style, that it was impossible not to wonder if this was only the tip of the iceberg. Surely, if McCullum did it on day 1, somebody had to do it in week 1. It looked so easy. 6 years later, and plenty of Gaylestorms later, it was the man from Jamaica that decided to follow the first century of IPL-6 (Watson) up with a statement of his own.

This was not merely a statement. Only a game ago, Gayle had batted through the RCB innings to guide a tiny chase and ended up with 49*. On April 23rd, 2013- Chris Gayle took on the Pune Warriors single-handedly and played through the innings again. He scored 175 not out. In 66 balls.

T20 cricket has had its share of phenomenal batting and bowling performances through the years, but one thing was unanimously believed: There is no batsman like Gayle in the history of T20 cricket. He proved it through 3 IPL seasons with the top-heavy Royal Challengers, making a mockery of most batting records and strike rates and sixes and fours and distances and graphs and pie charts and averages. Just when one thought it couldn’t get more destructive, Gayle scored the fastest ton in the history of the game. He took 30 balls to score 100 runs, and took Mitchell Marsh and the rest of the Pune bowlers to the cleaners. This was in the 9th over of the innings.

Then, in his own words, he decided to play some ‘real cricket’. He slowed down, almost as if he was fulfilling a dare by his teammates to prove that he could do anything at will. He chilled out for the next 4 overs, showing the world some respect, showing the game of cricket some respect. He paced himself after scoring the fastest-ever century, and even had the time to leave a few balls. He showed considerable restraint while facing Luke Wright and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. Then, when Ali Murtaza came back to bowl his useful left-arm spin again, he got back to breaking records.

In a record-statistic-obsessed-country like India, this was T20’s 501*, 400* and 200* combined. Only a few weeks ago, a well-written piece on Cricinfo called Gayle a ‘conceptual force’. There is no better term for a man who has mastered the format so precisely, that an entire tournament waits with bated breath for his next offering. Which often comes within days of each other.

17 sixes (WR again), 14 fours- a six that measured 119 mts (WR) and another one that was 112 mts. A six that broke the roof of the Chinnaswamy, and a four that almost broke the head of a poor ballboy. Nobody in the crowd felt like an audience, they became the real fielders in the game. And while the world rubbed its eyes in disbelief as Gayle sauntered towards the highest-ever T20 score, even AB De Villiers came in and treated his fans to a beautiful array of sweetly-timed big ones. Other than Kumar and Wright, who went for 6 an over each in their 4 overs- the rest of the bowlers went for 213 runs in 14 overs. 263/5 also became the highest-ever team T20 score, passing Sri Lanka’s minnow-bashing 260.

When Gayle was done with his ‘strategic innings’, he mentioned that he was a bit hungry and could do with a snack or two. With that, he took the orange cap and every possible hat ever invented for achievers in any sort of cricket. What mustn’t have escaped the world, though, is that 3 of the 4 most astonishing batting records in the history of the game (501, 400 and 175) came from West Indian left-handers. While it’s easy to write them off in any form of the game longer than 40 overs, it is impossible to predict what their definition of the word ‘record’ is anymore. While Lara awed the world in the longer version of the game, Gayle has taken over the mantle in T20 cricket- a format he was born in. By this logic, many would wonder why he can’t score 400 in a 50 over game. And that, my friends, is where the science of cricket takes over from art.

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