Do you ever think about starring in a movie? Playing a suave spy, or a sports star, or even just a billionaire living the life? Saying out your name whilst stressing on the nickname, acting out as a high roller, jet setting around the world, and partying with celebrities across the world? Even if all of it is written down in a made-up script, just imagining this lifestyle is enough to elicit goosebumps.
When it comes to reality today, professional cricketers perhaps resonate the closest in terms of this fabled lifestyle. Because when you have hit 21 T20 hundreds all over the world, you are not just headlining the main event, you are one!
You get to strut around with an invincible aura, wear the coolest shades and feature in umpteen commercials selling everything from condoms to bats, you dance in your best friend’s music video wherein even the lyrics feature your name and it goes on to become an international chant, you own a bar in Jamaica, and mainly become top box-office draw at any cricket event.
You also get to introduce yourself as the “Universe Boss”. Or, in an alternate reality, you could simply say in that Caribbean accent, “Maan, the name is Gayle, Chris Gayle!”
Surprisingly however, on Thursday night, Gayle’s demeanour was far from what we have come to expect from him all these years. Yes, the usual swagger was present, but it wasn’t as in your face as usual. There was a ‘matter of fact’ feeling about his swashbuckling knock, almost as if it had been long time coming. “A lot of people said that Chris has a lot to prove (after the auctions). I am just here to put some respect on the name,” he said, raising a few eyebrows.
Indeed, when you look back at what Gayle has done in recent times, there has been much left to desire. Prior to this IPL season, he was part of the ICC World Cup qualifiers and returned only 165 runs in six innings for the West Indies. 123 of those came in his first knock itself against the UAE. In New Zealand, he only featured in two ODIs scoring 26 runs. In the T20I series on the same tour, he scored 12 runs in two matches.
In fact, Gayle’s last stand-out performances had come in the 2017 Bangladesh Premier League. Playing for the Rangpur Riders, he finished the top-scorer in that tournament with 485 runs in 11 matches, including two hundreds and two half-centuries. His 146 not out off 69 balls saw a record 18 sixes. Unless you are among those who witnessed that knock, or indeed tuned into it on your television set, well, let one say that it is almost unfathomable otherwise.
Let it be said here that Gayle is not among the most consistent batsmen in the world, for this slam-bang attitude comes at a higher cost of giving ample opportunity to the bowlers. Yet, through the years, he has maintained a fairly appreciable average and strike-rate across formats — average 42.18 in Tests at a strike-rate 60.26 (he no longer plays this format owing to a dispute with the WICB), 37 in ODIs at 85.81, and 33.80 in T20Is at 145.11. In List-A matches, he averages 37.85, and in domestic T20s (mostly franchise cricket across the world), he averages a staggering 41.15.
There is another underlining point to these numbers. When Gayle was not picked in the first two rounds at the January IPL auctions, there wasn’t much surprise. Last year, in his last season for the Royal Challengers Bangalore, Gayle finished with 200 runs from nine matches. In 2016, wherein Virat Kohli amassed 973 runs and AB de Villiers scored 687 runs, Gayle only returned 227 runs in 10 matches.
It has often led to the debate whether Gayle makes for smart investment any longer. Over the last couple seasons at Bangalore, he was seen as the ‘elephant in the room’. Kohli had no idea how to sort out the balance problem for his franchise, and on current evidence, he still doesn’t. But with Gayle sitting on the bench, it was a right Royal mess, pun unintended. As IPL — and most T20 franchise leagues — have pivoted towards a successful business model rather than just being an emotional asset, purchasing a player you don’t know what to do with makes little sense.
And thus, this confusion was seen in the manner Gayle was sidelined at the most high-profile IPL auctions in some time. Until, in a moment of inspired madness, Kings XI Punjab’s mentor/coach Virender Sehwag raised his paddle and got Gayle at his base price of Rs 2 crore. It begs to be asked if, in doing so, Sehwag had just saved Gayle’s IPL career.
“I think Virender Sehwag has saved IPL by picking me,” Gayle quipped after dispatching the Sunrisers Hyderabad attack to all parts of Mohali. Among them were Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Rashid Khan, two of the finest white-ball exponents currently in world cricket. The fact that they had negligible effect on Gayle’s belligerent mood goes to show that he is still a force to be reckoned with.
“Viru said in an interview that if Chris Gayle can win us two games, we have got our money's worth. I'd like to have another word with him and see what happens from thereon,” Gayle said further, after giving Punjab an immense dose of confidence ahead of two away games in Kolkata and Delhi within four days.
The fine print is there for everyone to read. R Ashwin promised a lot of surprises when he took over the Punjab captaincy, and it included benching Gayle for the first two matches of this 2018 season. So much so, that when the question of pairing up with the in-form KL Rahul came up, even Ian Bishop calmly asked to wait until the ‘in-form Gayle’ showed up.
The thing though about batsmen like Gayle is that they never really are ‘in form’. Much like his name, they are a force of nature, to be reckoned with or judged against. Including Gayle against Chennai Super Kings was as much a gamble as was leaving him out in the earlier games. This whirlwind century off 63 balls was but an extension of that ‘angry form’ Gayle brought to the table against CSK.
It even inspired Ashwin to win the toss and elect to bat first against the Sunrisers, something unseen in this IPL season thus far. Perhaps then, it could prove to be a game-changing moment for the Kings XI fortunes this season.