You discount Chris Gayle at your own risk. Unsold twice at the auctions this year, Gayle went into the last round at the auctions and was picked up by Kings XI Punjab for his base price of Rs 2 crore. In one innings at Mohali against the daunting bowling attack of Sunrisers Hyderabad, he might have justified every single penny the franchise dished out for him.
Perhaps the most notable feature of his sixth IPL century was the manner in which he got stuck into the seemingly unassailable Rashid Khan. The young Afghanistan leg-spinner has been a revelation in international cricket and sits at No 1 in the World ODI and T20I rankings.
That, though, isn't what separates Rashid from the other leg-spinners who are making hay while the sun shines. It is his indomitable bowling that puts him in a completely different class to the wicket-taking leg-spinners that you find in large numbers in every T20 franchise these days. Having played in the Big Bash League, Caribbean Premier League, T20 blast and Bangladesh Premier League, Rashid is a T20 backpacker of sorts and is familiar with the nuances of every league. The common theme has been him dominating batsmen across the globe.
“Rashid Khan is a player in a completely different stratosphere,” an impressed Dean Jones wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald. “No current batsman can read which way he is spinning the ball. He bowls between 92-97 kph, making it almost impossible for any batsmen to get down the pitch to smash him. He is just so accurate he has mesmerised nearly every team he has played. I haven't seen a batsman who has smashed him.”
Well, you have now!
At Mohali, Gayle sunk fantasy lovers into gloom as he drove against the popular notion that he thrives only against weaker attacks. The West Indian gave the world's best limited-overs spinner a glimpse into the world of Ali Murtaza as he tonked Rashid for six sixes across two overs including four on the trot.
The wrist-spinner came into the attack at a time Gayle was just settling into his groove. The burly left-hander, who has fought criticism, fitness and form over the past few months, made a rousing hundred that included 18 sixes in the finals of the Bangladesh Premier League but that spectacle did not come anywhere close to the fierce battle he had with Rashid.
Chris Gayle has scored 10 or more sixes in a T20 innings SIXTEEN times.
No other player has done it more than twice!
McCullum, Russell, Lewis and Shanaka have done it two times. #UniversalBoss
— Bharath Seervi (@SeerviBharath) April 19, 2018
The Afghan spinner caught the underedge of Gayle’s bat with one of his sliders off the first ball he bowled to him but it was too difficult a take for Wriddhiman Saha behind the stumps.
Interestingly, the over — where Gayle faced all balls — ended with two sixes, three dots and a single. The first six came off a delivery that slipped out of Rashid's hands and landed as a juicy full toss for Gayle. The leg-spinner, though, came back strong with a googly that landed in the middle of the strip and beat Gayle’s bat. After yet another dot ball from the same length, Rashid switched to another full length ball only to see it disappear into the stands.
He returned to bowl an impressive two-run over where Gayle once again had trouble dispatching Rashid's shorter length balls that either moved away from him or slid through quicker.
Though Rashid picked up the huge wicket of KL Rahul what awaited him next over was a merciless attack from the Universal Boss.
In a show of brute power and smart thinking, Gayle stood still at the crease and kept using his sinewy arms to take on Rashid for four back-to-back sixes. Before the poor leggie had an idea of what hit him, Gayle had smashed 27 off the over.
In all, Rashid bowled 16 balls to Gayle and conceded a whopping 42 runs at a strike rate of 262.50 or an economy of 17.5. To put things into perspective, his overall career T20I economy is a brilliant 5.86. None of those mattered against a blood-thirsty Gayle on the rampage.
Browse through each ball of the Rashid-Gayle showdown and you notice how the spinner kept making similar mistakes while the West Indian had a clear weakness against him. When the ball was going through quicker and pitched shorter, Gayle never really thought of going after it. But the moment there was flight on the ball, Gayle was up to the pitch of the ball — and he didn't really have to reach out because Rashid was bowling too full — to send it into oblivion.
The last time Rashid suffered such treatment was against South Africa in the World T20 in India in 2016 when AB de Villiers racked up 29 in his one over that also included four maximums.
But this was Gayle, apparently well past his prime, according to several critics. He never let Rashid settle down and re-emphasised the importance of switching plans on the move in T20 cricket. The leg-spinner seemed intent on flighting the ball and evoking a miscued shot, but with the size of grounds these days and against Gayle’s power, would a mistimed shot land within the boundary ropes? Unlikely.
This was a bowling attack that hadn't conceded anything more than 150 this season before this match. Gayle, for all his feats in BPL and other franchise cricket last year, isn't considered the same old force that destroyed a whole team with his 175 in the IPL five years ago.
The failure to come to terms with the onslaught and counter it stands against Rashid but, on the other hand, how do you tackle a batsman like Chris Gayle? Let's just say we enjoyed a 38-year old-man giving life lessons to a kid half his age. Or as the Universal Boss himself said at the post match presentation ceremony, “Virender Sehwag saved the IPL by picking me.”