Chris Gayle’s last international appearance was in that World Twenty20 final at Eden Gardens on April 3, 2016.
That he hasn’t turned out for West Indies since isn’t entirely his fault. Like Darren Sammy, his captain at the World T20, Gayle talked tough in the direction of the West Indies Cricket Board after that triumph. Naturally, he is persona non grata for Mr Whycliffe ‘Dave’ Cameron & Co. One must believe Gayle wants to play for the West Indies again, if only because he says so. In the interim, he seems perfectly happy to play freelancer as he has since the beginning of T20 time – the smasher-for-hire everyone wants in their corner.
And he has delivered.
Perhaps Gayle saw the future before anyone else did. Or maybe franchises around the world saw in him the man they wanted out front.
One way or the other, it worked out beautifully. In the Caribbean. In India. In Australia, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and England. And in Pakistan, or at least in the UAE. Since stepping out for the PCA Masters XI at Grace Road on September 15, 2005 – a match that saw little bat-ball action, a lot of rain, and a bowl out – Gayle has played close to 300 T20 matches. In many ways, he is the archetype of the T20 man: Big, beefy, brutal hitting. Yet, especially in more recent times, he has also been the most atypical figure: Lumbering, slow – even slothful; refusing singles and wasting balls, only to make up for three dot balls with a maximum, keeping his strike rate where it should be.
But the sixes have not been coming as often as they used to.
At the Pakistan Super League earlier this year, Gayle’s 160 runs from nine games for Karachi Kings came at an average of 17.7 and a strike rate of 115.10. The best was a sedate 44. Only eight fours and 14 sixes flowed from that big blade. Only 44 times did the big man jog down the pitch for singles.
Anyone can have a poor tournament. Gayle did at the PSL.
He is having a mediocre one at the IPL now – twice in five games he had to be left out. That ought to be fine too, even if it’s come so soon after the PSL.
But in the last IPL season, Gayle didn’t have too much of a Universe Boss time either. He had three good knocks – 73 against Punjab, 49 against Kolkata, and 76 in the final against Hyderabad. The last time he managed to carry out a sustained assault in the IPL was in 2015 – 117 in 57 balls against Punjab. He has a century every 16 games over his T20 career, which is pushing 10,000 career runs now. But the last of those came in early July last year.
Even with the good turn at the 2016 Caribbean Premier League (425 runs at a strike rate of 155.67) accounted for, Gayle has been having more bad days than good. Only on the field, of course, because Twitter and Instagram are proof that the Boss lifestyle is unchanged, the ear-to-ear smile undiminished.
With Gayle, experts have always suggested that the trick to keeping him quiet is to nullify his swing – keep the ball away from his big-hitting arc. Not a foolproof plan, that. Remember that Gayle has two triple centuries in Test cricket – one spanning ten-and-a-half hours and 483 balls, and the other almost 11 hours and 437 balls. Well off the 970 minutes Hanif Mohammad once batted at Kensington Oval or even the 778 Brian Lara hung around for his 400 not out, but not bad for a dasher. And that means Gayle is, when he puts his mind to it, more than a biffer over cow corner.
But that’s what he has chosen to be in T20 cricket. Which is what funds the Boss lifestyle.
It isn’t working for him at the moment, though. Not enough for Royal Challengers Bangalore to pencil him in at No. 1 in all their team sheets without a second thought. He still makes as many advertising hoardings as Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, and that isn’t likely to change any time soon, but the hike from the hoardings to the field is getting tougher and tougher for the man.
Time is against Gayle. He isn’t a 360-degree hitter the way AB or Glenn Maxwell are; his T20 game is what it is, and he’s too old a dog to be taught to jump through hoops now – he might not be up for it either.
At almost 38 – as anyone, World Boss or not, who has been 38 will tell you – some things don’t get easier. Reinventing oneself isn’t quite on the agenda any more.
Simply put, Gayle’s powers seem to be on the wane. Bowlers he would have sucked the souls out of and left in a bloodied pulp are fancying their chances against him now, and with good reason.
For two years at least, he has a deal with Cricket South Africa’s T20 Global Destination League. The PSL might not be ready to live without him yet, and that might well be true of many other middle-level T20 leagues that can still make hay with Gayle smiling out of the billboards. So, Gayle has time. He still has pull. And value. But the runs? He needs those – desperately. One wonders if he has lost a bit of interest and it’s just a matter of waking up on the right side of the bed one day and switching it all back on. And scripting another of those 15-over highlights reels.
He can get fitter if he puts his mind to it – Zaheer Khan is a year or so older and is looking leaner than he has in many years, and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Gayle’s senior by five years, is still out there scoring centuries, tight-slapping the West Indies Cricket Board along the way.
As with most players of his generation – my generation – one hopes there’s a hurrah stored away somewhere, a bit of merry-making left. You’d hate to see Gayle sign off from the bench and the advertising hoardings.