A few days ago, two of the three top stories on cricinfo were about one man. The headline of the first was: 'West Indies want to mop up 'residual matters' with Gayle'. The second read simply, 'Gayle goes berserk in Pune'.
The two were connected, but laterally rather than literally. Gayle was not yet on the roof of a municipal building negotiating to release his hostages if only Ernest Hilaire would agree to stop Skyping him. His carnage was of the more usual kind - he'd just hit Bhuvneshwar Kumar for four sixes in five balls, in the process re-emphasising the hold he has on his board and on the game.
Next year, professional T20 cricket will be ten years old. It has distorted thinking more than Bodyline did, reshaped finances more than Packer could, demanded the most complete revolution in technique since Grace began hitting across the line, offered players a new career model beyond central contracts. Chris Gayle's employers have included the Barisal Burners, the Matabeleland Tuskers, Sydney Thunder, Royal Challengers Bangalore, West Australia, Kolkata Knight Riders, Jamaica and of course the immortal Stanford Superstars, and they have had value for their coin. If not T20's Bradman, then Gayle is its WG, its Ranji. In its infant years, he is a conceptual force, its vision of the future.
Even to those looking towards us from the not-so-distant 1990s, the limp times after the Windies and before Waugh introduced four an over to Test cricket, Gayle would seem like Kubrick's Obelisk, dressed in his space-garb, his gold pads and his gridiron helmet, his muscle shirt tight on his giant shoulders, beefed-up bat in his shimmering gloves, a quarter of a billion people watching on TV as his blade scythes through...
One in every nine deliveries that Gayle has faced in T20 cricket has been hit for six. One in nine. It feels like a key indicator of how he is shaping a format in which we are really not sure what the prime stats should be. Certainly the side that hits the most sixes usually wins. But even measured in the old-school way, Gayle is getting ahead of the rest by the sort of percentages that Bradman did. By the blunt tool of average, his mark of 43.81 is miles beyond those who can reproduce his strike rate (155.48), while those who can come within five of that average cannot approach his speed: Kieron Pollard strikes at 161.34, but averages 28; Sehwag 159.83 but averages 29; Kallis averages 39.64 but strikes at 113, Sachin 37.48 but at 123. Or consider this: Gayle has as many T20 centuries as Kallis, Pollard, Pietersen, Warner, Sehwag and De Villiers added together.
Lots of other batsman can do what Gayle does once or twice, it's just that Gayle does it so often. His last nine innings in the IPL have been 87, 4, 86, 71, 26, 82 not out, 57, 6 and 128 not out. He has the most runs at the highest average, as he did last year, and it is over that period that Gayle has really separated himself from the rest. Because the T20 game is shortened and heightened, his refinements are harder to spot, but they are there.
His 128 not out from 62 against Delhi illustrated perfectly his current thinking. He didn't score from his first eight deliveries, and by the end of the first powerplay had 10 from 17. In his 'berserk' 57 from 31 against Pune, he had four from his first eight deliveries and 17 from his first 16. In his 82 from 59 against Delhi in the match before that, he had two from his first ten and 22 from his first 19; in his 71 from 42 against Kings XI, it was 21 from his first 19; in his 86 from 58 against KKR he had 23 from his first 25.
The other half of the equation is that the acceleration, when it comes, is unprecedented. Gayle's strategy is not just to hit boundaries but to clear the ropes. He has hit more sixes than anyone in T20 cricket, his 279 put him 81 ahead of the next best, Kieron Pollard. And he is ratcheting it up; in this year's IPL, he has 57 in 14 games. A loose study of his boundary counts shows that he tends to hit fours in his first 20 or so deliveries and then moves on to sixes.
It would be fascinating to hear him talk about it, but he is deliberately enigmatic. His Twitter stream is a flow of emoticons. He rarely gives interviews and when he does, like his mate KP, they tend to yield the wrong kind of headlines. He sees no benefit in demystifying himself, and in truth it is adding to his legend.
All of this makes that lateral connection between those cricinfo stories. Players have always been exiled by boards, but Gayle's illuminating brilliance in T20 cricket, on a global platform, is a mirror that reflects the WICB's own stupidity back at them.
Cricket will reach its agreements with T20, and years from now people will recall its first quaint decade and smile at how old and proper it all looks. A few sages, cryogenically preserved, will be able to say they saw Chris Gayle bat, this format's Grace, this format's Bradman. WG would certainly approve of how little he says, and of how little he runs.
Three great innings under 50
3 weeks ago