Chris Gayle, your team needs you
Chris Gayle is all about superlatives – his life, his batting and his gigs. But in the midst of living a king-size life, the swashbuckling batsman also invites a fair amount of scrutiny – not all of it is criticism as one would expect though; but it surely includes his stand on Test cricket vis-a-vis the Caribbean team and of course, retirement questions.
It's a fact that many have already written obituaries on his West Indies career. But he is still playing, plying his trade in every conceivable cricket leagues around the world, latest being the Bangladesh Premier League. That's where Gayle becomes an enigma; by choice or design, no one seems to know.
In yet another league, he has managed to win hearts and created more records even as the Caribbean team suffered another humiliating defeat.
Not so long ago, he had enthralled everyone during a three-innings stay in England, scoring in the sequence of 92, 151* and 85* for Somerset in the NatWest T20 Blast. Before that, he was one of the stars in the Indian Premier League.
All this while a youthful West Indies side was taking on the world, trying to save their legacy with their unbridled cricket – the same brand that Gayle professes. But why isn't Gayle a part of it, now, when the team needs him the most?
Gayle, who has a history of falling out with the West Indies team, ruled himself out of the reckoning citing a lingering back-injury and the non-negotiable T20 commitments. He missed series against England, Australia, in England and now in Australia, and seemed to carry no qualms about it.
As a mercenary, he is in Bangladesh, turning up for Barisal Bulls and doing what he does best – destroying bowlers. In his limited appearance for the Mahmudullah-led side, Gayle reminded everyone about his class. For instance, in one of Bulls' match against Chittagong Vikings on December 9, he played an unbeaten 92-run knock off a mere 47 deliveries. That's the Gayle everybody wants to see.
The following day, West Indies took on Australia in Hobart in the first of a three-match Frank Worrell Trophy series. Two days later, the visitors were handed a resounding beating, with Australia winning by an innings and 212 runs, after enforcing the follow on. There, West Indies definitely missed someone like Gayle, and unfortunately there is only one Gayle.
Win or lose, a West Indies side with Gayle in their ranks would have fared much better. Even in at their lowest ebb, they would have certainly put up a fight. The fact is, in whichever condition – half-fit or fit – he is still the best batsman in West Indies, in all format.
At 36, and with a nagging injury, the opener is at the wrong side to meet the rigors of Test cricket. But the large question, which will haunt the mercurial batsman sooner or later, is, “Have I done enough or even pushed enough to get into the national team, except the injury excuse?”
For some, Test cricket is the reward itself, irrespective of awards and recognition.
In a thick morass of selection uncertainties, Gayle's case continues to be a quagmire in cricketing lore. His abilities with the cricket bat are already a fabled one. But like many of his West Indian contemporaries, he continues to be an absent figure when it comes to serving the collective Caribbean cause.
But every now and then, the left-handed opener from Jamaica presents himself as an eager player, obstinate by circumstances.
“I'd love to play a few more international games... But we'll have to wait and see. It's tough, the travelling is very hectic, sometimes you have to know when you've reached the limit in life, sometimes you have to draw the line,” he said in June.
In the same breath, he said that he is still pushing to play for the team and to make ends meet, he will talk to the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).
"... I will still push to play international cricket, when I go back home I will have a discussion with the coach and maybe with the board, so that we can work out Chris Gayle's future, to see if they are still interested. I am still interested so I'll look forward to that and see how best it can work out."
Six months down the line, there was no sign of him playing for the West Indies, at least in the longer format of the game. But, not to deprive himself of any action, he has travelled to Bangladesh, even as West Indies head to Australia.
He is one of the many West Indian mercenary players playing in various cricket leagues around the globe. After playing in the cash-rich Indian Premier League, Gayle was in England, took part in the Caribbean Premier League, and is expected to feature in the Pakistan Super League too. You name a league, and he is there.
Thanks to his explosive talent and a cool demeanor, the Royal Challengers Bangalore player has dominated every single league he has participated and will continue to do so.
However, the same cannot be said when it comes to him playing in West Indies colours.
His love-hate relationship with WICB is famous, to say the least. It all started with a sponsorship dispute in 2005. Riling comments against the cricket board, including a chastising remark that he did not want to captain the team in 2009, followed it.
Blame it on the nature of West Indies cricket's governance, the players themselves or administrators. If a talent like Gayle fails to play Test cricket, everyone is to be equally blamed.
For a matter of fact, he is not the only player with talent and reputation to have deserted the team. The list is long. And blame games continue to hog the headlines.
At a personal level though, Gayle continues to produce swashbuckling innings in the seemingly limited chances that came his way. Being the only player to have scored a Test triple century, an ODI double century, and a T20I century, he certainly is the “king of all formats,” as he often claims.
The last time he turned up for the West Indies side, in the World Cup, he was one of the saving graces of the team. During the campaign, he became the first player to score a double hundred in a World Cup match, hitting 215 runs off 212 balls against Zimbabwe.
In his 269 ODI matches, he has scored 9221 runs with 22 hundreds at a strike rate of 85.11. His exploits in franchise cricket are well documented. Gayle has 15 Twenty20 centuries, nine more than his nearest rival Brendon McCullum.
In Test cricket, he has 7214 runs at an average of 42.18 in 103 matches with 15 hundreds. And in T20 Internationals, he has 1406 runs from 45 matches with a century at a strike rate of 142.59.
He is certainly one of the modern greats, but stories of a reluctant Gayle excusing himself from the national set up will always paint an image so distraught for the sport that many will be forced to ask, what's there in playing for a national team.
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