Doubts have rarely permeated into Chris Gayle’s irrepressible party psyche, and nobody has benefitted more from the Twenty20 explosion than the jovial Jamaican. He’s been the entertainer, the jaw-dropper and the star – often of a one-man show. Crowds flock from all parts to see his sixes, and while some may gasp at his bad boy lewdness, it’s been a mere footnote on the Universe Boss brand.
There has been no stopping him – until recently.
Sure, a rigorous search through the statistics will uncover slumps at various points, but this one has (or was) as damning as any. Courtesy of a thunderous trademark 38-ball 77 for Royal Challengers Bangalore, Gujarat Lions were discarded in Rajkot and Gayle broke free from his shackles.
On the pitch, we were treated to the old Gayle, off the pitch, we were afforded a glimpse of a new one – a slightly vulnerable one.
“I wanted this so badly,” he explained afterwards, in reference to his return to form and unique 10,000-run T20 achievement.
It’s hard to imagine that there’s anything in cricket Gayle wants badly – at this point, anyway – given what we see. A more laid back sportsman you won’t find, a more laid back anyone you’d be hard pressed to.
Perhaps it’s a slightly ignorant view. After all, Gayle is a near two-decade veteran of professional cricket. Without drive and pure desire, he’d never be what he is. But this is the Gayle that the man wants us to see, and revels in showing us. Even in the depths of his slump, he was still sharing his antics on social media, to a mixed response.
Back on the pitch, we were seeing raw emotion. Not the usual, knowing lapping up of appreciation like a king in his palace we’ve become accustomed to, but relief. His dismal form in the Pakistan Super League had carried over to the IPL and Bangalore were more cut-throat with Gayle than Karachi, by dropping him. An unheard of move, but an understandable one all the same. For the first time in a long time, the 37-year-old West Indian was in a position where he had to prove himself as a cricketer.
When Gayle suffers a power cut, the microscope goes on other aspects of his game, which even he must admit are lacking. He’s an ambler – a jogger, if being generous – between the wicket, who turns twos into ones and ones into dots. Early-innings cautiousness would be described as nervousness for others. Combine that with his fielding lethargy and rare, nigh on non-existent spin bowling, and the 2017 version of Gayle is exposed as a one-dimensional cricketer.
Against Gujarat, we were treated to a more energetic Gayle, a more determined Gayle. He seemed spritely out there, sprinting with purpose when required, to the delight of pocket-rocket captain Virat Kohli. The ambition had returned, 10,000 came and went as a notch on the belt. There was more to do and more to come – much more.
Luck is a rare commodity when you’re struggling, but when Brendon McCullum clipped the boundary rope after taking a stunning catch – the sort of freakish brilliance that seems to happen against you when you can’t get a break – Gayle knew it was the prime time to pounce.
He unveiled a new “dance” (at least I think that’s what it was) upon reaching 50 in 23 deliveries with a whopping six that almost left Rajkot – the “Salt Bae”, as it’s called. Whatever it is, Gayle’s the only cricketer who could pull it off without looking a fool.
By the time he departed, this time for real, we had been treated with seven gargantuan sixes. This was the old Gayle who made a laughing stock of boundaries, winding up his bulky frame and whacking the ball with that huge bat. It felt like he was lashing out at the pains of recent months in furious fashion.
For all the bravado, Gayle struck a modest and studious tone after RCB’s second win of the year, opening up on his technique, which was more in tune than we’ve seen it for a while.
“It's not really premeditated, it just comes natural, to be honest,” he said. “Over the years, a lot of guys spoke to me about my stance. Even Shaun Pollock spoke to me about my stance. You're never too old to learn.
Gayle also gave away some future plans. “It has been fantastic and like I said still I have a lot more to offer to the fans. Hopefully, I can keep entertaining and get a few more thousand runs under my belt.”
Bangalore back in business?
Bangalore will be relieved to see their prize asset awake and alert. So bleak it has been for them that the perennial runner-ups have been forced into must-win mode before half the season is complete. The journey ahead still looks treacherous and unforgiving, but there’s a slight crack of light.
The next stop is Eden Gardens, a happy hunting ground for Gayle. He teed off there as a Knight Rider and blasted his first IPL century there as a Royal Challenger in 2011. Defeat is a no-no for RCB and with de Villiers’ fitness uncertain, there’s no backup. It’s all on the ‘Universe Boss’ and Kohli – who’s deserving of his own ‘boss’ title – up top. But they had to start somewhere, and the cogs are finally grinding into action.
The Royal Challengers are glad to have Chris Gayle back. Cricket is glad to have Chris Gayle back. And, last but not least, Chris Gayle is glad to have Chris Gayle back.