Gayle, like cakes and ale!

PTI

Chris Gayle’s belligerence is something that is perhaps intrinsic to the cricketing gene pool across the West Indian islands. For the Caribbean batsmen, denting bill-boards and threatening distant clouds with pulsating shots is something as innate as their calypso and rum-punch, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

Cut through the jargon that engulfs cricket and you end up with a game in which the focus is on bat and ball. The collision between the two or at times rather the lack of it often determines the way in which a contest is headed. No one encapsulates this primordial truth better than Chris Gayle.

The Jamaican’s pulverising willow and his fast-and-furious exploits have regaled fans across the cricketing globe. His latest bruising blows for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League, fits in nicely with his image of being a batting marauder.

On a festive Ugadi (Kannada New Year) day at Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy Stadium, the former West Indies captain slammed a 50-ball unbeaten 85 (4x4, 9x6) that shut the door on Kolkata Knight Riders. It was an innings that had patience as its prologue before the middle and last chapters were embellished with fiery sixes that forced the white ball to defy gravity.

A keen eye, a powerful torso and the audacity to go through with his shots even when he is not in the best of positions, makes Gayle an ever-present danger for harried bowlers. During his merry run against KKR, there was this one instance of Gayle stepping a touch forward when Ryan McLaren steamed in. The delivery was a shade wide but Gayle’s bat scythed through and though there was a streaky air to the execution, the shot still sailed over third-man for six!

Men like Gayle and Virender Sehwag might exude the ‘see-ball-hit-ball’ simplistic theory that we all have practised during trysts with street cricket but surely there is a method to the madness. After grounding KKR, Gayle deconstructed the innings thus: “One thing that was not going right in the last couple of games was my balance. Today the balance was absolutely superb out there. I was on to the short ball as quickly as possible, so was the full toss and slower delivery. Sometimes in the middle you don’t feel about these things but you have to overcome such shortcomings.”

An intense awareness of his strengths and the desire to fit that into the larger picture of providing joy to the fans, defines Gayle’s approach to batting. “Whenever I hit the ball, I hope it clears the boundary, that is the key. When it gets hit properly, it’s gone. I am here to play cricket and entertain the crowd. Whenever I get a chance to do it I will try to make the most out of it,” he said.

Kieron Pollard...highly combustible.-K.PICHUMANI

The opener’s belligerence is something that is perhaps intrinsic to the cricketing gene pool across the West Indian islands. For the Caribbean batsmen, denting bill-boards and threatening distant clouds with pulsating shots is something as innate as their calypso and rum-punch.

Remember Sir Vivian Richards of the gum-chewing, gun-slinger eyes and ‘I-own-this-turf’ aura or Sir Gary Sobers or Clive Lloyd or Gordon Greenidge? “I like to be free, to live on my nerves and be able to react in a fraction of a second against the bully at the other end who is trying to rip off my head,” wrote Richards in his definitive autobiography ‘Sir Vivian.’ The lines dealt with his refusal to wear a helmet right through his distinguished career and it also reflected his enormous self-belief, a trait that also courses through men like Gayle.

If nostalgia is not your cup of tea, how about the current Caribbean cricketers? Look no far as men like Kieron Pollard (Mumbai Indians), Dwayne Bravo (Chennai Super Kings), Kevon Cooper (Rajasthan Royals) and Sunil Narine (Kolkata Knight Riders) are critical to their team’s fortunes.

They may not be in the same scorching league as Gayle but Pollard and Bravo do offer a blistering bat allied with some handy medium-pace bowling while Cooper and Narine are the quintessential ‘go-to-men’ for their skippers when the need of the hour is wickets and a slowing down of runs.

Ever since their extensive stints in the IPL over the years and the added impetus gained by winning last year’s ICC Twenty20 in Colombo, the West Indian players have partially reclaimed the swagger that defined the earlier generations.

Dwayne Bravo...all-rounder of merit.-V. GANESAN

It was a point dealt by KKR captain Gautam Gambhir, when he said: “A lot has improved for them (West Indies) after the T20 triumph. The West Indians have done really well. Someone told me a couple of days back that the first four ‘Man of the Matches’ this (IPL) season were West Indians.”

The skirmishes between the maroon cap players in different IPL shades has also made for some interesting spectacle be it Pollard and Bravo’s squabble or that crucial passage of play during Gayle’s assault on KKR. Narine came into the attack and the opener preferred his singles. Later Gayle justified his defensive mind-frame and said: “Based on the situation, (it) was necessary not to take any chances against Narine as he is their (KKR) key bowler as well. Didn’t want to take a risk.”

The above words show that pragmatism too is part of the Gayle persona.

All this adds to his infinite charm and he is indeed a link between the domineering West Indian cricketers of the past and a future that hopefully will throw up aggressive Caribbean players.

Right now it is time to sit back and enjoy the Gayle force and may be hope that he will also do his Gangnam-style dance. And we have not even spoken about his off-spin!