By Nishad Pai Vaidya
If there is any batsman who has mastered the T20 format, it has to be Chris Gayle. If one thought his exploits during the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2011 were phenomenal, his outings in the ongoing season defy logic. T20 is the cruder format of the game where batsmen aren’t usually expected to maintain consistency, but Gayle’s would laugh off such “preposterous notions”.
Gayle has smashed the most number of runs in a single IPL season. The previous record holder was Sachin Tendulkar – who scored 618 in the 2010 season. Gayle fell short of that tally by 10 runs in 2011, but had played only 12 games. However, in 2012 he has already crossed 700 runs in just 14 games – setting a new benchmark. It would require a tremendous amount of consistency to get anywhere close to that record. The second highest run-scorer of this season - Gautam Gambhir - is a good 160 runs behind.
Gayle’s knock against Delhi Daredevils was typically thunderous as no bowler was spared from the savagery. However, during the IPL 2012, there is a completely different side to his batting that has come to the fore – the watchful one. Before he unleashes his destructive fury on the bowlers, Gayle tries to get his eye in and see the bowling. Once he gets past that stage and enters his zone, the bowlers face a daunting task of dismissing him.
Even though the hundred against Delhi would be remembered for Gayle’s murderous assault, one mustn’t forget that he played maiden over early in the innings. Spectators would have rubbed their eyes twice to believe what they had just seen. However, if one follows the pattern of his big knocks during the IPL 2012, the sedate starts were a common feature.
The best examples of his unique approach to batting in T20s would be his knocks against Pune Warriors India, Kings XI Punjab and Mumbai Indians. In all the three games, Gayle played the sheet anchor’s role as he has held the innings together in the first few overs and didn’t allow the bowlers to get the upper-hand. It was imperative for RCB that Gayle stayed in the middle as long as possible.
In the game against Pune at Bangalore, Gayle scored 81 off 48 balls. Bangalore were chasing a huge 183 to win and at the end of the 12thover they were 76 for three with Gayle at 41 off 36 balls – a slow knock by his standards. The 13th over shifted the momentum for Bangalore as Gayle smashed Rahul Sharma for five consecutive sixes. In a matter of minutes, Bangalore found themselves in a more comfortable position with the run-rate looking very achievable. Although, that target required some getting and Saurabh Tiwary sealed the deal with a six off the final deliver of the game, they wouldn’t have even come close had Gayle not hit those five hits over the fence.
When Bangalore faced Punjab at Mohali, they had to chase a competitive 164 for victory. They were jolted early as Virat Kohli and Mayank Agarwal fell in quick succession. Gayle maintained his cool and went at a near run-a-ball rate until the start of the ninth over when Bangalore were 48 for three. Although Gayle’s change of gears wasn’t as drastic as the game against Pune, he kept hitting boundaries regularly from that stage onwards. As Bangalore approached the total, Gayle took on the bowling and made merry.
On a tough wicket at the Wankhede Stadium, Bangalore’s bowlers restricted Mumbai to 141. Although the score wasn’t the best, Mumbai would have counted themselves in with a chance as the wicket wasn’t the easiest to bat on. In the initial overs, Gayle was more circumspect in his approach and didn’t take risks against Malinga. He hit a few boundaries to maintain the tempo. His opening partner, Tillakaratne Dilshan was dismissed in the ninth over with the score at 48. At the half-way mark, Bangalore needed 88 and Mumbai could have come back in the contest with a few wickets. However, Gayle smashed 22 runs off Pragyan Ojha’s over, which included three sixes – an assault that effectively shut the doors for Mumbai.
Despite these successes, there was one failure. In the game against Kolkata Knight Riders at Eden Gardens, Gayle’s assault was too little too late. By the time he started hitting out, the game was out of Bangalore’s reach and they had to settle for a disappointing loss. Nevertheless, the success rate is three times that of the failure and his persistence with such a strategy is ominous signs for bowlers. The only way they can get the better of him is to dismiss him during his watchful stage- otherwise they are at his mercy for the rest of the innings.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)