For someone who has said that he would not be sad if Test cricket died out Chris Gayle is doing a lot to keep it alive. The 30-year-old West Indian captain has, during the first decade of the new millennium, been one of the hardest strikers of the ball and has been the architect of some of the most amazing knocks in both Tests and limited overs cricket. Somehow, in the avalanche of swashbuckling deeds performed by others of his ilk like Shahid Afridi, Virender Sehwag, Sanath Jayasuriya and Adam Gilchrist, Gayle’s feats have been swept aside which is pretty unfair considering that, while his strike rate in ODIs is a little below than those of other buccaneering batsmen, his average is the best among the quintet.
Consistency is one quality not associated with the kind of big hitting that these batsmen excel in but, all things considered, Gayle has produced a number of knocks that are high on high octane skills. This has resulted in his having a Test average of 40 plus and an ODI average that is virtually 40. His strike rate of 83 in ODIs is, as I said, below that of the four others but is right up there with the best in the business. And with 19 hundreds in 200 innings he comfortably ranks among the top ten.
Like the other swashbucklers, there is not much change in Gayle’s approach when it comes to cricket’s traditional format. He strikes the ball hard and high, plays thrilling shots at will and is one of the few batsmen who can toy with the bowling even as he gives the bowlers a chance. Still 12 hundreds and 31 half centuries is a pretty good return for someone who has a healthy strike rate of 58 spread over 85 Tests. His kind of adventurous batting that pulls in the crowds is not associated with long innings but Gayle has a triple hundred in Tests. Again, you would not associate Gayle with the feat of carrying the bat but that’s what he accomplished just the other day against Australia at Adelaide while scoring 165.
But what he achieved at Perth was very much like the Gayle the cricketing world knows, loves and admires. It was typical that he should hit the fifth fastest hundred in Test cricket – off just 70 balls – and reaching it with a six. But perhaps this was not a new experience for Gayle for, at Cape Town in January 2004, he had reached three figures off only 79 balls – and this in the face of a South African total of 532. This no holds barred approach is so typical of the maverick cricketer.
In a lean era for West Indian cricket, Gayle’s pugnacious approach has stood out. As the leading personality following the retirement of Brian Lara he has taken upon himself the responsibility of bringing out an upswing in his team’s fortunes – a daunting task given that the personnel are largely short on class, skill and experience. But despite his casual exterior Gayle is a thinking man’s cricketer and leading from the front comes naturally to him. His captaincy graph shows more ups than downs and if anyone can lift West Indies from the morass it is in, it is Gayle.
But whatever his admirable qualities as a leader, it is as a batsman that Gayle will attract attention. Tall and imposing at the crease, Gayle loves to carve through the covers off either foot, and has the ability to decimate the figures of even the thriftiest of opening bowlers. Critics are quick to dismiss his lack of technique and his weakness in defence but batsmen with little footwork or unorthodox methods often baffle the experts and this is what Gayle has done. He is a crowd puller, symbolized by the 800,000 dollar price tag paid out for his services by the Kolkata Knight Riders. A natural for cricket’s newest and shortest format, Gayle hit the first hundred in Twenty20 internationals during the inaugural World Cup in South Africa in 2007 reaching three figures off only 50 balls and hitting ten sixes in all against the hosts.
Gayle also bowls reasonable off spin – good enough for him to take 70 plus wickets in Tests and over 150 in ODIs. He has a five-wicket haul in both formats so it can be said that his bowling is under rated. But it is right and proper that he should concentrate less on his bowling for it is his batting that empties bars and attracts a worldwide TV audience.