Caribbean catapult

Chris Gayle is a great one for hitting them into the rafters.-PTI

In the long-winding Indian Premier League, the primary story of the league phase has been the manner in which Gayle has galvanised the Royal Challengers Bangalore into an awesome force. In the rapid world of Twenty20, Gayle has carved a huge space for himself while his immense shadow has dwarfed rival teams, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

An Indian summer of dry dust and sweat streaks has turned special for a man from Jamaica. Chris Gayle may not have read T.S. Eliot's opening lines in his epochal poem ‘The Wasteland', which state: “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire.” The powerful opener might well strike a contradictory note and say that April '2011 has been very special and years down the line he is bound to look back at the current summer with a mix of ‘memory and desire.'

In the long-winding Indian Premier League, the primary story of the league phase has been the manner in which Gayle has galvanised the Royal Challengers Bangalore into an awesome force. In the rapid world of Twenty20, Gayle has carved a huge space for himself while his immense shadow has dwarfed rival teams.

The fairy-tale run has evoked awe within RCB and envy in rival dugouts, but Gayle would be the first person to admit that it is a bull run that had no teaser trailers. The former West Indies captain had a forgettable World Cup, eking a meagre 170 runs and his last innings yielded a paltry eight in a forgettable quarterfinal against Pakistan in Dhaka on March 23.

When Gayle got back home, the guillotine was readied and he was dropped from the West Indies squad for the ODI series against Pakistan. And while he rested and created the odd buzz with his comments on music and sport in Twitter, a rapid turn of events in Bangalore, tweaked in a twist in Gayle's destiny. Dirk Nannes got injured and the RCB management worked the phone lines to Antigua.

Gayle was in and it was indeed a piece of delicious irony considering that during the player auction in Bangalore in January, corporate honchos and actors were not interested in one of the most explosive batsmen the world has ever seen. Talk centred on how he would be caught up with the series against Pakistan and a few cynics whispered about ‘attitude-issues.'

The big-built speak-easy opener erased the blips from his mind and rushed to Bangalore. He made his mark with an unbeaten 102 that sunk his old team Kolkata Knight Riders at Eden Gardens and soon scorers at IPL venues were scrambling around with their multi-coloured pens while Gayle dominated the turf. Gayle's scores ever since he joined RCB are: 102 n.o., 26, 49, 107, 44, 70 n.o., 38, 0 and 75 n.o.

Aggression was always his calling card but consistency was a fickle ally. Gayle seems to have now built a bridge between the fifth gear and the deep anchor even though it is in the fickle world of Twenty20 cricket. “It feels good and nice. This is the first time I have been so consistent and I am happy about that. When I got in here, I got a nice reception from the team, lots of fun, lots of chit-chat and I feel free to bat the way I want,” Gayle said.

RCB skipper Daniel Vettori is really glad that Gayle is in his side and not with some opposing outfit.-PTI

Ever since he set foot in India for the IPL, Gayle has empowered RCB and in the nine games he played for Daniel Vettori's men, RCB has won eight outings. “I haven't seen a player have that much impact in a season yet. He has been phenomenal. RCB is very fortunate that they have got him. He has responded beautifully. A lot of their wins feed off him,” said Stephen Fleming in Bangalore on a Sunday night which again belonged to Gayle. The Chennai Super Kings' coach had witnessed another Gayle-special as the opener's unbeaten 75 (50b, 4x4, 6x6) guided RCB to an easy victory against CSK.

It was not a knock that was punctuated by a series of exclamation marks. Gayle paced the innings well and stayed alive to the single and the six with equal measure. CSK skipper M. S. Dhoni employed R. Ashwin in the opening overs and Gayle stayed focussed and offered a defensive bat. He suppressed his ego and bided his time. Later he pulled out a few sixes from his arsenal as the pursuit gathered pace against a target of 129. Be it Ashwin or Doug Bollinger, Gayle gave the bowlers the respect they deserved before turning it on in that disarming but bruising Carribean way made special by the likes of Sir Gary Sobers and Vivian Richards in the past.

Gayle has defied the stereotypes about him in recent past. It is not just about his batting, Gayle the off-spinner has also played his part with six wickets. There are other intangibles too as the Jamaican's fielding and camaraderie with Virat Kohli has sparked a feel-good atmosphere within the RCB ranks. “I am unpredictable and as for the celebrations after taking wickets, the players wanted me to celebrate and I did that. It is not that I haven't danced before. May be next time I get a wicket I will stay quiet as if nothing has happened,” Gayle said during a recent press conference.

Prior to Gayle's arrival, RCB struggled upfront with an out-of-form Tillekaratne Dilshan while Kohli and A.B. de Villiers remained the only torch-bearers. Gayle quickly changed the mindset, pounced on the Power Plays and more importantly showed the willingness to bat right through the 20 overs. “I am happy he is playing for us,” Vettori said. When asked about what he would do if he had to bowl to Gayle, the left-arm spinner smiled helplessly and replied: “Ah well it would be tough to bowl to him in small grounds. May be I will bowl some yorkers. He is too good now and I haven't seen him play like this before.”

Lashing bowlers and long stints at the crease is a difficult blend, but Gayle has found a way. In Tests, he has two triple centuries — 317 against South Africa and 333 against Sri Lanka! These are statistics that point out to a sprinter who has the reserves to run the marathon. Muscle-memory and reflexes might define Gayle's batting but there is a method too in the mayhem he inflicts among harried bowlers. “When I walk in to bat I stay relaxed, keep my mind clear and tell myself — yes, I can,” he said.

Gayle the bowler, too has been in the picture.-AP

Gayle does plan, visualising his shots and being ready when the moment arrives at the crease. “I do prepare for the bowlers like they make their plans for me. I think about the areas they bowl to, make my plans and try and execute them as best as I can. Every team has good bowlers and any bowler can dismiss you. For a batsman it is always about one mistake,” he said. Be it digging out Brett Lee's yorkers or playing out time against Ashwin, Gayle has displayed adaptability and that has augured well for RCB, which finished on top in the league stage with 19 points.

In a remarkable phase in which he won five ‘Man of the Match' awards, Gayle has been focussed on the game. In recent days, Gayle has also enjoyed the good times at Vijay Mallya's Goan villa and was also embroiled in a scuffle with an intrusive television reporter while he was out shopping in Bangalore. He has to be given due credit for keeping these digressions away from his mind when he strides out in the park. “To be frank I played my part, scoring these runs in these victories. I am not aware how the situation was earlier but this team has a wonderful environment and we have won well. It is important that we continue this into the knock-outs,” Gayle said.

Despite the presence of game-changers like Kohli and Zaheer Khan, RCB has thrived on Gayle's merry ways at the top. The team though would believe that the biggest take-away from Gayle's current stint is the new bonds that have been forged with the local fans at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium. A fresh squad with minimal local flavour was a reality that was difficult to digest for most fans but Gayle has changed that mindset. Bangaloreans have found a new hero and the team gained a welcome impetus that has made chief mentor Anil Kumble and coach Ray Jennings nod their heads in vigorous approval.