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By Partab Ramchand
For 70 years Don Bradman stood alone. He was the only batsman to score two triple hundreds in Test matches. Brian Lara equaled this feat in 2004 and now there are a total of four with Virender Sehwag and Chris Gayle having made it to the list.
The growing number does not diminish the greatness of the feat even though with the proliferation of Test cricket more players could join the list. However I venture to guess that the figure will not be unduly large. To get one triple hundred is itself an outstanding achievement and beyond the reach of numerous great players which is why one must savour the rare quality of such a feat.
To be candid I am not surprised that Gayle is now a member of an exalted club. I have always felt that the 31-year-old former West Indian captain is capable of touching great heights – certainly greater than his present record which is pretty modest. When a batsman averages a shade over 40 with just 12 hundreds from 88 Tests (before the Galle game) he is dismissed as an average performer especially these days when every other batsman it seems is averaging fifty plus. But then Gayle is an entertainer pure and simple. The tall left-hander has 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. But 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 not been given their due 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 not only a Test average of 40 plus but an ODI average that is virtually 40. His strike rate of almost 84 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 just over 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 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. His kind of adventurous batting that pulls in the crowds is not associated with long innings but now that Gayle has two triple hundreds in Tests perhaps that perception will change. Again one would not associate Gayle with the feat of carrying the bat but that’s what he has accomplished against Australia at Adelaide while scoring 165 a year ago.
What he achieved a Test later 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 inimitable 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 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 is largely short on class, skill and experience. But despite his casual exterior Gayle is a thinking man’s cricketer and leading from the front came naturally to him. He lost the captaincy following a dispute over contracts but perhaps now that he can concentrate on his batting his best is yet to come.
An imposing figure 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, 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. It is hoped that with his latest feat that puts him in a rather exclusive club he will get the acclaim he richly deserves.