Chris Gayle, born on September 21, 1979, is one of the most destructive and entertaining opening batsmen in the world. Jaideep Vaidya profiles the career of a man who makes the entire cricketing world dance to his tunes.
Christopher Henry Gayle. The name itself is enough — enough to send shudders down the spines of the best of bowlers, enough to make a bowler think multiple times before deciding what or where he is going to bowl, enough to make the fielding captain want to place some of his men in the stands because they are mere spectators on the field, enough to make you want to bunk work to go and watch him bat and not be disappointed even if he scores a duck because you know he’ll be back, and enough for many lazy headline editors across the world to fill in the dots with the venue, makingheadlines such as “Gayle-storm passes through ……….” or “Gayle-force destroys ………..”.
It is often said that statistics and records hide more than they reveal. That doesn’t really apply when you consider Gayle. He defies popular logic as much as he does a good delivery. Here is a chronological list of the records and milestones that Gayle has achieved in his career… and counting. Yes, these are all the antics of one single man:
When he is batting, you wonder how big he sees the ball, no matter how fast it comes at him; you wonder if his eyes have been fitted with some ocular device which magnifies the size of the cricket ball to the size of a beach ball! You wonder if he likes to play the popular mobile game Fruit Ninja, given the way he slashes at deliveries to all corners of the park. You wonder if his bat is made of a powerful spring, the way balls seem to bounce off it and fly miles. You wonder if he is indeed human.
With his feet stuck firmly to the spot, it’s just the upper half of Gayle’s six-feet-two muscular frame that is in motion and does all the work. His long and strong arms, wielding willow, sway and slash around like the branches of a tree rooted firmly in a hurricane. There is only so much your body can do by pivoting off a fixed lower half; yet, Gayle manages to do so much more. After a point, it is scary to think what he could have done had he used his feet more.
Gayle is a batsman cut out and tailormade for the T20 format. He is the perfect three-hour entertainment package: destructive and explosive with the bat, handy with his part-time spin and addictive with his on-field antics, which usually include breaking into a jig at the fall of a wicket. His rendition of the Gangnam Style dance probably went more viral than the South Korean pop star Psy’s original. Gayle is a thoroughbred Jamaican party animal who brings the beach house party onto the cricket field.
One of the most jovial and fun-loving cricketers on the planet, his Twitter account (@henrygayle) provides a perfect insight into the kind of person he is. Gayle’s Twitter bio reads “World Boss / ‘Chris Lion’”. The lion is a reference to…well…a lion; Gayle calls himself one because a lion “sleeps 17 hours a day”, which is close to what he does when not on match duty. Gayle’s tweets range from profound, to entertaining, to hilariously irrelevant. As easy as he can dish out “Our life doesn’t get better by chance – it gets better by changes!” and “Common sense is like deodorant -Most people have it but don’t use it”, he can also leave you in splits with “I think I’m allergic to early mornings”, “I need a 6 month vacation, twice a year” and “I’m so sophisticated…just bought a chopper as the last one got confiscated!!”
Reading the above, you wouldn’t be blamed if you thought Gayle was a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Far from it.Coming from humble beginnings in Kingston, Jamaica, the world would not have been blessed with the opportunity of witnessing Gayle bat had it not been for the local Lucas Cricket Club. Gayle hailed the influence of the club on his development as a cricketer, openly admitting that he would not have been where he was in life if not for them. “If it was not for Lucas I don’t know where I would be today. Maybe on the streets,” Gayle told a gathering at the club in 2012, as reported by the Jamaica Online Star. “I feel proud and honoured that years after creeping through holes in the wall, running around and learning the game.” Lucas has named a cricket nursery after their most famous alumnus.
Gayle did not have the most flattering of starts to his international career. Having represented the West Indies at the youth level and having made his First-Class debut for Jamaica at the age of 19, Gayle endured a torrid time after his ODI debut in 1999 when he flopped miserably against sub-continental giants India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Gayle’s first few scores in ODIs read 1, 15, 7, 6, 0, 7, 22 and 4, before he scored his first half-century, against Zimbabwe at Jamaica the following year. Amazingly, Gayle’s first Man of the Match award came in July 2000 when he scored 37 off an unbelievable 73 balls, but picked up two wickets with the ball and bowled an ice-cool final over to win his team the match by three runs.
Gayle made his Test debut in March, 2000, against Zimbabwe at Port of Spain and was dropped after three matches due to failures. However, on his return a year later against South Africa, he cracked a shackle-breaking 81 at Guyana and never looked back. His first Test century was to come soon after, when he blasted 34 boundaries on his way to 175 against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo. His first double century was to come exactly a year later when he scored 204 off 332 balls against New Zealand at Grenada, the second hundred taking just 115 deliveries. This was followed by the first of the records mentioned above, when he pummelled India into submission with scores of 103, 72, 140 and 101 in a single one-day series, which was the first time the world got a glimpse of what was to come in the future.
Gayle had his fair share of controversies in his career, especially with his cricket board. The first instance was in 2003 when he missed the final of a domestic tournament for Jamaica and chose instead to participate in an international double-wicket tournament in St Lucia. He was axed for two Tests by the board on this occasion. In 2005, Gayle was among the first team West Indies players who were dropped from Tests against South Africa because of their personal sponsorship contracts with a telecom company which was a rival to the official sponsor of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). After missing a Test, Gayle replied by hitting his first triple ton, against South Africa at Antigua. Gayle was handed captaincy of the team in 2007 for a limited overs series in England, and immediately criticised the board over arrangements on the tour. A year later, he was to hand over his resignation from captaincy due to selection policies, but withdrew it in a couple of weeks.
One of the bigger controversies in his career was his comments during an interview in 2009 when he said that he “wouldn’t be so sad” if Test cricket was to be extinguished. “To be honest with you, there’s a possibility I might give it up — I will be giving it up, shortly,” he said, in a candid chat with The Guardian. However, he later claimed that he had been misquoted, although not denying that he felt the longer format was not for him. “Test cricket is always going to be there, but they were my views on Test cricket as an individual,” he told reporters at Chester-le-Street. “I don’t see myself playing Tests for any long period of time. I think Test cricket will always be there. Twenty20 has come onboard and it’s made a huge impact on the world, it’s brilliant, games have been sold out and it has taken the place by storm. I look at Test cricket differently, I don’t see it as long term for me, just for me, I’m just speaking about myself.”
Then, in 2011, Gayle was banned by the WICB after scathing comments made against the board and coach Ottis Gibson in a radio interview. Gayle, talking to Jamaican radio station KLAS Sports, branded Gibson a “user” and blamed him for wrecking the confidence of his teammate Ramnaresh Sarwan during the 2011 World Cup. “The coach messed up the man mentally,” Gayle said. “The players were not in the right frame of mind. Sarwan was batting without a free mind. Players told me they lost confidence. A player speaks his mind in team meetings openly… The player said his piece… After that, he never play another World Cup match. But me talk with my mouth and me talk with my bat.”
Gayle responded to his ban by taking the IPL by storm that year, topping the run-scoring charts (608 runs in 12 matches at 67.55 and strike-rate of over 183). The following season, he did an encore with 733 runs in 15 matches at 61.08 and a strike-rate of 160.74, including a whopping 59 sixes. Meanwhile, the West Indies struggled in his absence. Gayle was at the centre of all the spotlight in Twenty20 leagues around the world, making his mark everywhere and emerging as the most sought after players, before the impasse with the WICB finally ended after 15 months in June, 2012. Gayle celebrated his return by helping the West Indies win their first World Cup since 1979, even though it was the T20 format.
And so, as the days go by, the records continue to tumble, the balls continue to be popped into the stands like grenades and the bowlers continue to bemercilessly massacred by the willow of Christopher Henry Gayle. His 175 off 66 deliveries against Pune Warriors in the IPL 2013 is arguably the most destructive knock ever seen in the history of the sport. Fourteen years into his international career, you still don’t know what to expect from him. No barrier seems unbreakable and no ground seems big enough for the Jamaican juggernaut.
If you’re wise, take cover.
In photos: Chris Gayle’s cricketing career