The old warhorse Chris Gayle will once again don the colors of West Indies when it takes on Sri Lanka in a T20 International series beginning soon. He has been selected to play under the captaincy of Kieron Pollard. So it is good news for the team from the Caribbean islands and bad news for the team from another island halfway around the world.
But at the age of 41 is the Jamaican powerhouse still as good as he used to be? That is the question on everyone’s lips. Everyone who follows cricket in the West Indies and in Sri Lanka is hoping that the answer to that question will be according to their viewpoint.
The man who has hit more sixes than anyone else in international cricket has been named as a member of a Caribbean squad to take on Sri Lanka in a three-match T20 international series. It will be followed by an ODI series and Test matches later. The tall and burly Gayle is perhaps looking for a future beyond the T20 international series against Sri Lanka. He may be hoping to represent West Indies in the T20 World Cup to be held later this year.
In recent times, Gayle has taken part in various T20 tournaments in different countries so he is not completely out of touch.
However, the level of competition in these tournaments may not be of the same standard as that seen in international cricket when one nation’s team takes on another. It is one thing to face club bowlers (maybe with a few internationals thrown in) in T20 matches but quite another thing to take on the world’s fastest and craftiest bowlers in the international arena. Gayle’s hand-eye coordination, his focus and his timing have to be working at the top level if he is to succeed.
West Indies selector Roger Harper has said: “As we build towards the defence of our T20 World Cup, this opportunity is being taken to determine our best team as we go forward. Chirs Gayle has performed very well in recent tournaments and the selection panel thinks that he can still add great value to our team.”
But, all said and done, if Gayle strikes the form that he was known to possess during his youth, he will be a difficult batsman to control. Fans from all over the world have been enthralled by his ability to whack the ball into the sky and send it soaring into the stands.
In all types of conditions and in all formats Chris Gayle has stamped his authority in a regal manner. He has created so many records that an entire book can be written about the records that he has set.
So how does he do it?
The secret lies in correct breathing and balance, Gayle once revealed.
He had explained: “It is instinct. When a fast bowler runs in towards me, my breathing is controlled. I keep my head still and slow down my breathing. Sometimes I even hold my breath so that I can stay still and well balanced. If you get excited, you overreact and lose focus.”
His spectacular hits have earned him many nicknames, such as, Universe Boss, Gayle Force, Gayle Storm and World Boss. In ODI cricket he has scored more runs for the Windies than even Brian Lara. He has scored 15 centuries in Tests, 25 in ODIs and 2 in T20s.
But Gayle has had to deal with setbacks in his life. He grew up in a small hut with a tin roof in the midst of a shanty town (slum) in the backstreets of Kingston. He fell in love with cricket when he watched matches at the nearby Lucas Cricket Club. When he was a young man, it was found that he had a hole in his heart and had to have a surgery to repair it. That experience had a big impact on his approach to life.
“I decided that day that I will take everything that life gives me with a smile. I will live my life with a smile on my face,” says Gayle.
He realised that there is more to life than only success on the cricket field. It made him a more balanced and carefree man. His maturity also helped him to become a better player. He himself is in an upbeat mood. He seems confident that even at the age of 41 he still has a few years of cricket left in him. Soon we all will know if the assessment of this jovial Jamaican is right or wrong.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.