Manchester, June 26: Chris Gayle is nothing if not an entertainer, both on the field and off it. With the bat, he is an imposing presence, capable of depositing the ball millions of miles away with the most effortless ease. Behind the mic, he is equally at home, a mixture of wit and impishness and without a trace of the affected modesty that is such a drudge in these days of coached niceties.
There is no trace of arrogance or pompousness to him, not even when he says, “I'm definitely up there with the greats, without a doubt.” It’s his response to being asked where he sees himself in the pantheon of West Indies batting greats. He utters those words with a smile to take away any perceived edge, but you know that he is not talking himself up, either. He doesn’t have to. His numbers are more than enough.
Gayle’s reputation in the last several years has been made by his bruising battering of the white ball, so it’s sometimes hard to remember instantly that he is one of only four batsmen with two Test triple-centuries. His 333 against Sri Lanka in November 2010 came more than five and a half years after he smashed 317 against South Africa, at the batting beauty that St John’s in Antigua is. He averages 42.18 in 103 Tests that have yielded him 7214 runs, excellent returns given his high-risk game; that’s to go with 10,345 One-Day Internationals runs and 1,627 in T20Is. And, as he revealed on Wednesday at Old Trafford, he is on course to add to those numbers.
Earlier this year, the 39-year-old had indicated that he would bid goodbye to international cricket at the conclusion of the ICC World Cup 2019. The epitaphs had been written, the paeans had been sung, but what’s Gayle without a delightful twist? A twist so undulating that even his captain was taken by surprise. Like the rest of the world, Jason Holder too believed that Gayle would be lost to Caribbean, and world, cricket in a couple of weeks’ time.
All he could do when he came to know from his media manager that Gayle had decided to extend his career was smile and remark, “We need to sit down and have a serious chat!”
That 'serious chat’ will stem from Gayle’s assertion that he would be waiting for India when Virat Kohli’s men travel to the Caribbean for three T20Is, as many ODIs and two Tests from the first week of August. “Maybe a Test match against India and then I'll definitely play the ODIs against India,” he crooned into the microphone of his post-World Cup schedule. “I won't play the T20s. That's my plan after the World Cup. It's still not the end, I still have a few games to go.”
Gayle cut his teeth at the global stage as a fresh-faced 19-year-old, against India in the DMC Cup in Toronto in September 1999. Since then, he has evolved beyond belief, and carries the moniker of Universe Boss with characteristic aplomb. It is no surprise, hence, that an involuntary guffaw escapes his lips at the mention of a potential mini-Universe Boss lurking in the West Indian ranks.
“Mini-Universe Boss? That's a serious name!” he grinned. “Nicholas Pooran, his work ethic -- I must commend Pooran's work ethic. It's fantastic for a youngster to actually just come into the team. And he's going to be a world record beater (knocking on the wood). Nicholas Pooran is going to be a savage youngster, trust me on that one.” But no mention of the Mini-Universe Boss, sir.
As for India, they will be prepared for the Gayle storm that has only made sporadic appearances in this competition. He smashed 50 off 34 balls in his team’s tournament opener against Pakistan, in their only win so far, and hammered six sixes and eight fours while making 87 off 84 in the heartbreak against New Zealand a few days back. India have managed to keep him quiet – he has made just one half-century in his last 12 innings – and Gayle himself is wary of the Jasprit Bumrah threat.
“Bumrah is the number one bowler in the world right now, if I'm correct,” he said. “He's a world-class bowler, producing across all formats, I should say.”
But what does your bat have to say, Universe Boss?
(R Kaushik is a cricket writer who has followed the sport closely for nearly three decades, and is covering his seventh World Cup))