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Chris Gayle is a man in desperate need of a challenge. Bowlers in T20 competitions around the world have failed to provide him one. Back home in the Caribbean, on the bouncy wickets of Australia or the flat ones in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, and most of all in the IPL, the big Jamaican has butchered one attack after another. It’s hard to fathom what bowlers have been doing wrong.
His run-scoring has been formulaic: settle down, see off the new ball, let the weaker bowlers come on, turn off Bruce Banner, turn on Hulk, go smash. That’s exactly what happened today.
Briefly, Umesh Yadav seemed to have found the magic mantra to keep Gayle quiet. Yadav bowled short of length around off-stump, swinging away from the left-hander. The unthinkable happened: Gayle played a maiden over. It has got to be one of the bowling moments of the tournament.
Gayle took his time. He moved to 10 off 17 balls. He hit a couple of sixes over long-on, reached 38 in 34. Still slow by his standards. Delhi had done a pretty good holding job till then with their off-stump line. But their wheels soon came off. Gayle took 62 off his next 19 balls for the hundred, and 90 in all off his 28.
In those 19 balls, Parvindar Negi was hit into the stands four times and Irfan Pathan thrice in an over. These were all hit in the arc between square leg and long-off. Mahela Jayawardene, standing in for the ill Virender Sehwag, brought back Yadav, who went back to his off-stump line. This time it didn’t work. Gayle smashed him for sixes over extra-cover and point.
The best of Gayle’s IPL record-equalling 13 sixes today was his last of the innings. Varun Aaron bowled him a fast yorker outside off-stump, but erred by giving him the slightest width. Gayle dug it out and guided it over the point boundary. There was nowhere you could bowl to him today. The second highest score in the game today was Virat Kohli’s 73. Gayle scored more in sixes alone. Their second-wicket stand of 204 is a T20 record.
What sets Gayle apart from most big hitters of the game is his fuss-free approach to hitting sixes. There’s no fancy footwork, no attempt to hoodwink the bowlers by changing his grip or stance. There’s little or no premeditation. As he said after the game, the decision to go for six is left for the last moment. His reach is big, his arms strong, his bat as big and heavy as William Wallace’s sword, and the boundaries nearly not big enough. If the ball lands in his swinging zone, it will be punished. And he needn’t even go full throttle at it.
Batsmen these days are only too keen to express delight after hitting a six. They break into a laugh, brag to their partner about how they did it, and generally looked pleased. Kohli at the other end certainly did. Gayle on the other hand remains in his character: you can’t tell from his stone-faced visage if he’s just got out or just hit the bowler for five sixes in an over.
Gayle has 706 runs in 13 innings in IPL5, with 57 sixes. The next man is 160 runs behind. In all T20 cricket, Gayle has 3943 runs in 106 games. He has the most hundreds (8) and the highest average for anyone with over 1,000 runs (43.81).
He has the most sixes (279 — 81 more than the next guy, Kieron Pollard), and averages a six every nine balls. No other T20 batsman with an average above 40 has a strike rate above 150. If Gayle is not the Bradman of the shortest format, he certainly is its Hammond.
But these impressive numbers would count for little if Bangalore fail to win their last league game. Luckily, they will play it in Hyderabad, Deccan Chargers’ bogey venue. Winning there may help them scrape through to the play-offs with 19 points. Afterwards, Gayle needs to do what nobody has for the Royal Challengers: win them an IPL final.