The first T20 globetrotter and the finest T20 generation has ever seen - it is not a surprise that Chris Gayle is the Man Friday for teams he represented in his glittering 15-year T20 career. But do we respect him enough for his contributions in other formats?
When our mind gets conditioned to a certain level of comfort, it doesn’t leave it quite easily. You might try and break the pattern but the figurative imbalance that had already been created in mind would take some time to settle down. Take any common app update for example - it takes days to condition our head for the new addition but once it does, going back to the past seems an eerily different feeling. And exactly like that, our memory of Christopher Henry Gayle, one of the unquestioned legends of the sport, is one such weird thing. It has changed with the latest update, with the memories of slow and boisterous times seeming to be left behind in the distant outreach of our brain.
The Jamaican is definitely the greatest T20 cricket to have ever walked onto the planet, with him possessing the ability to launch a kind of mayhem that was unheard of in the past generation. Bringing Andrew Miller’s words, “Gayle will be recalled, when all else is forgiven and forgotten, as one of the founders of the modern game.” That was his legacy - a startling superstar who taught the world their future. But does that mean our estimation of Chris Gayle, sometimes over the roof, sometimes down the gutter, has been severely a wrong one? I guess so because that is the only truth you can see in his 21-year long career that saw the highest of highs and lowest of lows but never failed to entertain the fans through sheer audacity and thrill. 10,480 ODI runs and 7,214 runs in Tests don’t just come to a T20 swashbuckler.
Every time the Jamaican took the field in Test cricket, his pugnacious approach unearthed a new side of his personality as a cricketer. When he made it to the Test side, West Indies were on the verge of bidding goodbyes to their yesteryear stars. Even the bowling department, which used to produce a bunch of superstars after another, failed to carry the legacy forward with the likes of Fidel Edwards, Mervyn Dillon, and Corey Collymore being some distance away from the standard set by Curtly Ambrose, Franklyn Rose, Reon King, and Courtney Walsh. Although Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chandrapaul kept on dazzling the stage with contrasting abilities as batsmen, Windies needed a batting superstar at the top to support the fragmental genius of Sherwin Campbell. Adrian Griffith came along but for the Caribbean nation, Gayle’s arrival was the ultimate shot in the arm to survive in the modern and cutting-edge world of Test cricket.
While Gayle’s free-flowing style was a peep into the future, it never felt anachronistic at a time when the game was going through radical changes. Rather it was a moment of applause when Gayle tore apart the South African bowling attack in 2004 for a 79-ball century in Cape Town after the hosts put up a humongous 532 in the first innings. He was ready to show the world that he was incredibly self-aware and could bring thrill when none else can.
Five years later, the ultimate rear-guard innings took shape: in Adelaide, he batted inch by bloody inch for almost seven-and-a-half hours to score an unbeaten 165 to save the Test, after which he smashed the fifth-fastest Test century - off 70 balls - in the next match to showcase his varied ability. Should I now talk about that one inning of pure determination - defying Muttiah Muralitharan at Galle, to score a defining 333 in a Test match? C’mon Chris Gayle, you are more than a solid Test opener.
In ODIs too, he had a fantabulous sum of 10,480 runs to his name and we know anyone who is beyond that mark is a defining figure standing tall to be celebrated. But do we do that enough? Do we acknowledge the fact that Gayle had represented five World Cups so far - just one less than Sachin Tendulkar? If longevity is one of the markers of legacy, why do we stay behind and not celebrate Chris Gayle the ODI player as much as should? Yuvraj Singh, who played three more ODIs than Gayle, scored 1,779 runs less than the Jamaican and with a lesser average too. And we all know how much Yuvraj Singh is celebrated for his ODI exploits. So, can we not extend the same courtesy to the big fella from the reef-lined beaches of North America?
Is it the same mental conditioning again? Perhaps, it was about the moment as much as the man himself, who understood his worth and marketed himself as a freelance superstar on the T20 circuit. When the IPL franchises thought of him as a redundant figure in 2011, he came back as an injury replacement to ultimately turn the landscape of Indian Premier League in 2011. After RCB got rid of him ahead of the 2018 IPL auction and he found no bidders on the first day, only to be picked by a Sehwag gesture with his base price in Punjab, he consigned Rashid Khan - one of the bravest and finest practitioners of the leg-spinning art - for 41 runs off 16 balls. Did Virender Sehwag save the IPL by picking him? Well, he certainly did as Gayle joked in the presentation ceremony.
When we sit down and recount the legacy of Chris Gayle, the first thing that strikes our head is those effortless sixes to all corners of the ground, with shirts of various shades on. That memory is so huge that our recency bias doesn’t let us examine the other aspects of a career that not only promised a lot but actually delivered on it. With that context alone, it will be extremely difficult for Gen Y to understand the real and wholesome genius of Chris Gayle, which has now become inexplicable because of its very existence in a vacuum. Christopher Henry Gayle is bigger than the sum of his parts and sadly, only a few know the full story.