Chris Gayle and his limitless possibilities

If Chris Gayle scores at this rate, what are the preposterous possibilities in the 50-over format? © PTI

The 66-ball 175 not out has demonstrated with the innings, strike-rate and soaring sixes that only sky is the limit for Chris Gayle.  Arunabha Sengupta revisits the boundaries of possibilities that this knock has redrawn in no uncertain terms.

Tempest, tornado, typhoon … the name Gayle, aided by its English derivative ‘gale’, is loaded with stormy synonyms. The man himself, Chris Gayle, has lived up to his name to the hilt, producing innumerable blizzards with his bat, with the white ball flying about like flurries of snow.

However, in spite of his reputation, records and repertoire, the knock he produced on Tuesday at Bangalore blew away even the most imaginative predictions. They may still get over it by the time their careers are over, but for a long time Mitchell Marsh, Ali Murtaza and Aaron Finch will be seeing stars punctuated by streaking balls of white.

Redefining possibilities

During the monsoon of 1983 — with the rain clouds had arrived the news that Kapil Dev had scored an unbeaten 175 against Zimbabwe in the Prudential World Cup. People in India had blinked and wondered how such a feat was possible.

The incredulity was understandable. Till then only nine Indian batsmen had ever scored 175 or more in Test matches, when they could bat for days and days. And the star all-rounder had made all those runs in the course of a 60-over game. Fans revelled at the then world record score in overs limit cricket. Kapil Dev, known to give the ball massive whacks from the word go, could not really be counted upon to score consistently in Test matches. But, he was largely agreed to be the right man to amass a world record score in the shorter format.

Three decades down the line, the game has evolved beyond recognition. Mutations have not only given rise to derivatives only faintly recognisable, it has metamorphosed the original game itself.
The one time world record for a One-Day game, scored across 60 overs, has now been equalled in a format a third its duration. True, the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) versus Pune Warriors encounter does not qualify as an international game. But, with the colossal amounts at stake, the competition is just as serious.

Strangely, the man who pulverised the attack, and put the fielders, spectators and the neighbourhood at physical peril, happens to be a recognised opening batsman in Test cricket. He averages in the early forties in the longest format across 97 matches, with15 centuries including two triple hundreds.

Gayle is the paramount example of the new breed of batsmen who have been produced by the modern game. Like Kapil Dev, he gives the ball a massive whack from the word go. In fact, few in the history of the game have whacked more ferociously, frequently and from the first ball. Yet, he has passed the most stringent trials of perseverance in Test matches, by hitting triple-hundreds  — twice. Against respectable teams, in keenly-contested matches, at home and on the unfamiliar track of Galle.

It is incredible that the two current players who have scored two triple centuries in Test cricket are the most feared hitters in the game — Gayle and Virender Sehwag.

Today, Gayle blitzkrieged his way to hundred off 30 deliveries, with eight fours and 11 sixes. The only ploy that thwarted his progress was divine, a 33-minute respite provided by the rain gods while shedding a few tears over the plight of the Pune attack. Otherwise, the balls kept landing in different sections of the crowd, sometimes on the roof and on occasions beyond it. Remarkably, a lot of the towering sixes came off a straight bat. He did slog too, and sent Murtaza into the orbit beyond stratosphere. Only one of his 13 boundaries and 17 sixes was the result of a mishit, an edge to third-man.

He beat the record for fastest hundred — by a good seven balls. A dreaded truth now stares at the bowling fraternity. Unlike the previous holder of the record, Yusuf Pathan, Gayle is a confirmed serial killer of attacks. His modus operandi is proven and repeatable. The slaughter is both gruesome and clinical.
Gayle ‘slowed down’ perceptibly after his hundred, adding ‘just’ 73 from the last 36 balls. If he had maintained the astonishing rate, we could have witnessed the first double century in T20 as well. It was a distinct possibility, given that his first hundred was up on the board, with that giant hit off Ashok Dinda, in just 8.5 overs. The speed at which he scored, as well as the elevation of some of his hits, amply demonstrated that the sky has been set as the limit.

This raises some formidable questions about the future of the game in all formats.

Curiously, Gayle’s strike-rate in Test cricket used to hover below 50 for long. It had just stepped beyond the 50 mark around the time T20 was making an entry into the world of cricket. Since then, his strike-rate has raced along to the brink of 60, and his average at the same time has improved by leaps and bounds. In his last 20 Tests, Gayle has scored 1623 runs averaging 52.35, at a strike-rate of 70.53, with six hundreds. Scoring quickly obviously agrees with him. With his straight sixes now polished, perfected and prospering, he stands to become even more devastating in the longest format.

Besides, if Gayle scores at this rate, what are the preposterous possibilities in the 50-over format? He was not far from a double century today, before — as we mentioned — he ‘turned sluggish’. Simple unitary method — by no means rigorously scientific — projects an individual score of around 437 in an ODI!

With Gayle, it is by no means beyond the realms of possibility.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)