Chris Gayle has not played an international game for his West Indian team after the World Cup Quarter Final against Pakistan in March 2011. He went unsold in the first player auction of IPL 2011, and for a while- after getting into yet another contractual dispute with the much-maligned WICB, he had no country and club to go back to.
That was it, many thought, and along with Ramnaresh Sarwan, West Indies’ golden quartet (including Chanderpaul) was swatted aside just like that. For the first time in 18 years, there was not one player in the West Indian team to have played above 20 tests for his country.
Chris Gayle, the explosive and peacefully violent West Indian left-handed legend- with two test triple centuries to his name- was no more.
But then, in the balmy Indian Summer of April 2011, his life would change- as would many others- mostly bowlers at his mercy for 12 explosive nights.
The Royal Challengers Bangalore, a newly assembled squad after two trophy-less years, were stuttering after a mediocre start to their 2011 season, with all the Delhi rejects (Kohli, Dilshan, AB and Vettori) struggling to find their ground. With 3 losses from their first 4 games, they were being written off as reincarnations of the first ‘test team’ of the IPL 2008 edition.
Out of sheer desperation, they bought an available Chris Gayle- still uncertain about his future, one of the few IPL victims of KKR’s bizarre rotation policy over the last few years. He wasn’t a force to be reckoned with at this point of time, and how much could an out-of-favour West Indian bash-and-dash ex-captain opener do in a sinking IPL team?
He played 12 games for the Challengers, and single-handedly blasted them into the finals as odds-on favourites. Out of those 12 games, he made two ducks- one of them in the final, but also established a new IPL record of being the fastest to reach 600 runs in a season. 600 violent, nonchalant, decisive runs that defined an entire season.
Two centuries in a single season, with 44 sixes. It was like watching Dr. Bruce Banner turn around and say, ‘My secret? I’m ALWAYS angry’, then proceeding to casually turn into this red-and-gold (green) monster that wielded a broad bat for the mere fun of it. His movement at the crease seemed so relaxed and slow, that you’d think he was bludgeoning bowling careers in a hurry so that he could go back to his mid-season siesta.
Never before had a tournament witnessed hitting of the cleanest, highest quality so consistently- for a prolonged period of time. IPL was no more a domestic T20 league, it was a marker swept away by the GayleStorm.
A world of possibilities opened up to this player- who had discovered that he was, after all, quite a pro at ‘constructing an innings, while deconstructing the cricket ball’ in T20 cricket. Everybody knew about his prowess at the International level, especially after he successfully captained an ailing West Indian side for a good three years- with his bat often leading the way. But he was never taken seriously, because he was no Brian Lara- an icon that defined a certain standard as far as Caribbean left-handers went. Virender Sehwag faced the same problem for a length of time, until Tendulkar carved out his very own accumulating identity- and left Sehwag to play an entirely different role.
Gayle had his own style too, but either he’d storm away with matches single-handedly, or fail miserably while falling in a heap with his fellow countrymen. The latter often held true as an illusion to a sporting team that sank 1300 times slower than the Titanic. Nevertheless, if they had anything to cheer about, it was the tall Jamaican’s record feats- usually accomplished in a period that saw his team avoiding outright defeat fairly comfortably. Two triples centuries in Test Cricket, after all, had only been done by his Indian twin Sehwag, Brian Lara and Don Bradman. To still average near 40 after such tall scores, though, was a worrying sign of inconsistency at the highest level- a reason that saw him go through choppy waters with Lara at the helm.
The 2011 IPL season will go down in record books as the league that saw the rebirth of Christopher Henry Gayle- and the establishment of the second successful freelance T20 cricketer of his generation, following the explosive reputation of a certain K. Pollard- who had already conquered countries like India, Australia, England and Sri Lanka (domestically) after a single innings in the 2009 CL T20 league for hometown Trinidad. The only difference being- Gayle is already a veteran of West Indian International cricket, a stage that has seen him swim in a stratosphere completely alien to most souls for short periods of time.
Freelancers like him, though, are unlike professional freelancers from any other field. They not only get paid abnormal amounts of money on time, but their demand and stock rises faster than regular names on the roosters- thus leaving them with a lot of options at any given point of time. Playing real domestic 4-day cricket, along with international games, may not figure high on their list of priorities- as long as they seem imposing enough in a T20 game.
Another 407 runs in his first 9 games (out of 10) for IPL 2012 at an average of 50 has seen him once again emerge as favourite for the Orange Cap. His strike rate, for the first time, is second to another player- not coincidentally, this other player is named Virender Sehwag- and seems to have found a role in his own team very much similar to Gayle’s last season. His consistency has played a key role in Delhi being the top team this year, but not the ONLY role.
This season, though, has been different- with Bangalore struggling inspite of Gayle’s form- Vettori’s daft captaincy not withstanding. The problem could be plenty of T20 cricket for this freelancer- with him recently taking the Bangladesh Premier League and Kentucky Big Bash Down Under by storm too. But as it often happens, the fault of such monstrously destructive players in any form of the game- is the fact that their teams often become so reliant and focused on their star player’s feats, that they often fail to click on the whole as a unit. Gayle himself has looked resigned to his fate this season, even while he smacks bowlers like Rahul Sharma for five sixes an over. The swagger was never there, but even his dominant body language seems to be lost in a mixture of ill-health, back problems and a rubble of a team. He is still worth his price- with the runs still coming by mis-hits and faulty chases.
Out of his 409 runs, majority has come in a losing cause- and he has made sure that his team knows that he is single-handedly not capable of destroying the other team on his own if none of them are willing to shield their own backs.
As we speak, Gayle has decided to define his own destiny- rather than merrily drifting along with seasonal winds. He has opted out of his commitment with Somerset for the English T20 season- for something far more meaningful to him after having conquered all records possible in the shortest version of the game. There is only one place to go now…and nobody knows it better than him, at the age of 33, with his peak still ahead of him.
West Indies can rejoice as the ‘favorites’ tag has automatically been bestowed on them for the ODI series against in-form England. Why, you ask?
Chris Gayle has made himself available for selection, after 14 long months.
There is no more time to waste. An audience far greater than Indian IPL fans awaits Gayle’s second coming- a dish often served cold, almost as cool as the man himself.
A lot of nations will be ruing their failure to lure him into citizenship, because the Prodigal Son has returned.
Much like Brian Lara did, twice in his career, after falling out of favour with the selectors due to behavioural problems.
We do see a trend, and Lara did score his highest score of 400* at age 34. Just an observation.