November 28, 2023

For Chris sake, it’s a hit

Caribbean-maurauderBy Sandip G From New India Express

Depending on your perspective, Chris Gayle is the most exciting batsman in the world today or an emblem of everything that is defective with the modern game. A wholesome entertainer or a thoughtless slogger; a beguiling maverick or a greedy T20 hand-for-hire.

Few modern players divide opinion like Gayle. For some, he is a once-in-a-generation cricketer, the best Caribbean export since Brian Lara. For some others, he embodies everything rubbish in the game; a craven mercenary, the cheques rolling in as fast as sixes being dispatched.

In an age when the rewards for cricketers are greater than ever, Gayle towers above the field. Here is a man who has become a millionaire despite having had a fractious relationship with the home board, one who has made his fortune on the basis of being able to strike a ball harder and cleaner than anyone else in the world. And regularly.

For some, this rankles. They deride his almost exclusive diet of T20 cricket. They detest his promiscuity; he embraced leagues wherever it had sprung up. He was in the payroll of eight franchisees. In his months of international wilderness, he was cricket’s one-man version of the Harlem Globetrotters.

No T20 tournament’s billboard is complete without the beaming Jamaican and his knotty dreadlocks. He set the inaugural T20 World Cup afire, with a 57-ball 117, packed with 10 monstrous sixes, against hosts South Africa in Johannesburg. Two years later, he tore into Brett Lee at the Oval, plundering 27 runs of the paceman’s over. A year after, he smacked a 66-ball 98 to knock India off the tournament. Two years further, he bludgeoned 75 off 41 balls against Australia and propelled his team to the final. When it comes to defining moments, few batsmen have shaped them as regularly as Gayle. Fewer still have fully personified the spirit of this format. Still in its incipient days, he is T20 cricket’s vision of the future. Its batting template.

It’s not only his market value and freewheeling ways but also the way he carries himself on the field that adds to his legend. He lumbers onto the field, his Rastafarian locks carelessly tucked underneath the black bandana. There is no shadow batting or shoulder flexing. He apologetically marks his guard.

The batting, both technique and philosophy, is fundamentally simple. “He just keeps the good balls out and if the ball is in his hitting zone, he goes for it. He has great balance on the crease and keeps a steady head while doing it. He doesn’t play those lap shots or the reverse sweeps. That makes him an extremely difficult batsman to bowl,” said former opener Aakash Chopra.

If the ball is wide of the off-stump, it is cut or left alone; if it’s on a middle, off or fourth stump line, it is hit in the V for one, four or six or defended text-bookishly sans the left-handers’ finesse; if it’s on the pads, it is deflected to the leg-side fine for four, or squarer for one at most. And that, aside from a baseball slog or two when he feels set, is it.

The bat is almost always swung vertically, with the full face of the bat meeting the ball directly below the eyes. Gayle can play out five dots knowing that the sixth ball will go for four or even six. And it works for the big Jamaican. One in every 12 balls is struck for a six in T20 internationals. In non-international T20s, the frequency comes down to nine balls.

He speaks less, and when he speaks, it mostly lands him in trouble. It seems for every six, a new critic is born. But in reality, he is far more simple a person. It’s just that he is a product of his times. Its very embodiment.

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