“Why are we even asking this question?,” was the first question I was asked. The 'Gayle' storm has hit the IPL so much that any comparison to him appears almost sacrilegious.
I was asking myself the same until mid-way into the analysis, but wading through numbers often brings its own surprises and tells you what a hundred glorifying opinion pieces don't. So I chose to take the analysis till the end.
While Gayle opens for RCB, Raina used to come one-down just next door at CSK – so it's not so inappropriate a comparison. Both Gayle and Raina have been phenomenal in the IPL and have been not-so-phenomenal in the international arena. Raina is the highest run-scorer in the eight-year history of the event, while Gayle is third despite having missed the inaugural season and half of another to injury. However, Gayle is way ahead when it comes to average and strike rate at the event.
But averages do not provide the complete picture of consistency, as anyone with a cursory understanding of numbers knows. In that context, it is interesting to note this – Raina's top score in each season contributes on average about 17% to the total runs he made in that season, while Gayle scores on average almost one-fourth (23.3%) of his runs in a single innings of the season. Sometimes, he was just flogging a dead horse.
Hence, we decided to do a more detailed analysis of the players on the following factors:
Consistency – how well they have performed across seasons
How well have they done at home and away (The Chinnaswamy is one of the smaller cricket stadiums)
How do they do when batting first and while chasing ( Raina is known to have starred in legendary chases for CSK, while Gayle is not really known for his chasing)
How have they scored when their team was winning and when it was losing (No body wants to know about lost causes, but the intent was to see if they have consistently led their side to victory)
How do they fare when pitted against the stronger teams and when the big stage comes knocking?
And to wrap it up, are they just batting machines or is there more to them?
While both Gayle and Raina have managed an average of >30 in 5 of the 7 seasons since 2009, Gayle has managed to outscore Raina in 4 of them and each of them by a mile. He has especially been phenomenal in the first three years of joining RCB, averaging an insane 60+, at least in part thanks to the small Chinnaswamy ground. Raina has been more subdued except for that spike in 2010 when he led CSK to their first title, which anyway does not appear like a spike next to that 68 of Gayle's.
(Neutral venues have been excluded)*
Surprisingly, Raina performs better away than at home, but even that is not enough when compared to Gayle's averages across home and away. You would think the Chinnaswamy helped him score at such a high level, but that's only true to a small extent. Every ground seems happy hunting grounds with Gayle.
Even more surprisingly, (at least to some of us) was the fact that Gayle has a higher average when chasing than when batting first. For someone regarded as a reckless run-getter who typically does best when there is no end in sight, Gayle has been a phenomenal chaser averaging slightly higher when chasing. Raina's chasing needs no introduction. Whenever, CSK have needed him the most, he has put his hand up and delivered.
When Gayle scores big, he goes really big. And when that happens, RCB almost always win. That comes through in the averages as Gayle comes in at 73.1. But he drops to just above Raina's average when the team has lost. That also reflects, in no small part, on RCB's batting depth or the lack of it beyond three.
The final measure in batting was how they both play when pitted against quality opposition. That is where Raina finally shows signs of coming through. While Gayle has been good when he has been good (in 2011 and 2012), Raina has been much more consistent against the big guns – he averages more than Gayle in 4 of the 7 seasons – again that 2010 season where he led CSK to the title has been his magnum opus.
Raina once again scores over Gayle when it comes to the big stage. The averages almost reverse between the two at this stage – Raina reaches the mid-forties, while Gayle drops to the low thirties. And a player's biggest test is whethere he plays when it matters most and leads the team to a title. Raina did that with aplomb and has been part of a CSK squad that has reached the final in 6 of the 8 editions so far, and won it in 2010 and 2011 along with a Champions league title in 2010. In the IPL 2011 when both players faced off for the first time in CSK and RCB colors, Raina top-scored with a 73 not-out chasing a 175 against RCB in the first qualifier, of which Gayle contributed 8 runs - off 9 balls. In the final, Raina did not have much to do for once as the opening pair knocked off 159! Chasing 205, Gayle was out for a duck.
In addition, Raina's contributions on the field outweigh Gayle by a mile. While not much separates the two in wickets, Raina does bowl a tight spell for the T20 format. More importantly, he takes as many as four times the catches Gayle has recorded, not few of them turning points in matches and some of them breath-taking beauties.
As expected, Gayle does turn out to be the better batsman of the two. He has the higher average and higher strike rate both at home and away, while batting first and while chasing. But Raina holds his own when the big boys come to town and when the big stage beckons. In addition, he contributes without the bat and that too by a mile – he takes incredible catches and has conjured run-outs out of nowhere in many a match for CSK at crucial junctures. However, Raina has been lucky to have been part of a CSK squad that has seen no parallel so far in the IPL, while RCB has been a team of three, and at the best of time, four. In summary,
Better IPL batsman – Chris Gayle
Better IPL player - Tie