|Gayle in whites - more, please|
After a 14 month hiatus from the first-class game, Gayle returned to lead his native Jamaica to an emphatic victory over the Windward Islands – he led not as captain but by his deeds. His second innings 165 at quicker than a run a ball saw deliveries dispatched to all parts of Sabina Park, and reminded the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and cricket fans around the world of what the game has been missing. Gayle hasn’t played test cricket since a first ball duck against Sri Lanka in late 2010, and has had extended periods out of both the ODI and T20I sides - surprisingly, it’s closing in on two years since he donned the famous maroon cap in a T20 international. But, is he missed? Should the WICB move on and mend the bridges for the betterment of the game in the Caribbean, or is the Calypso King more trouble than he’s worth?
Since Lalit Modi and the BCCI changed the face of cricket, and the weight of players’ pockets, with the launch of the IPL in 2008, Chris Gayle, and others of his ilk, have been provided with an alternative to the simple joys of international cricket. There are now professional T20 competitions played in England, Australia, India, South Africa, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, the West Indies and New Zealand, and the list will continue to grow.
For a batsman with attacking ability to burn and a touch of Caribbean cool, Chris Gayle has become the most sought after cricketing mercenary in the game. He has played everywhere bar New Zealand, though after the dismal effort of the Sydney Thunder in this season’s Australian Big Bash League he contemplated boarding a plane to Hamilton to play in the Northern Knights final HRV Cup T20 match before preferring to spend the time in the sun with a few quiets in his short-term Aussie home. The loss was entirely ours!
In his absence from the international game, there has been little but T20 to judge Gayle on. Pundits and spectators the world over marvel at his power and potential for complete batting domination, but has he really made the impression we think he has in the past 14 months?
In short, yes. As his most recent dispute with the WICB escalated in early 2011, he joined the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in IPL4 after being left out of the Windies side. It is debateable whether one player has had such an influence on his team throughout any tournament. In 12 innings, Gayle topped the runs scorers with 608 at an average in excess of 67, including two centuries and three 50s - second placed Virat Kohli played five more innings that the dominating Jamaican. Similarly in this season’s Australian BBL he averaged in excess of 40 and almost singlehandedly took a woeful Sydney Thunder to the playoffs.
What of the disputes between Gayle and the WICB? Has there ever been a winner or are all parties, including cricket fans, losing out on every occasion? Gayle, and a number of his cricketing contemporaries, has had a running battle with the WICB since as far back as 2003. Money, personal sponsorships, selection criteria, criticisms of the board and coaches, and contractual disputes, among others – the grievances read like a sporting soap opera. Turn it into a reality show and the WICB would at least clear its money woes. Even when he was captaining the side, the issues continued – in 2008 Gayle resigned due to team selections, only to resume the role two weeks later, and in 2009 missed tests against Bangladesh and the ICC Champions Trophy as the WICB had a wholesale cleanout over contractual matters.
The current ‘he said, they said’ storyline belongs in primary school playgrounds not in the game’s upper echelons. The dispute could provide Gayle with a convenient excuse to end a sparkling international career, with its best years unfulfilled. A proud West Indian, there is more chance of Curtly Ambrose’s band covering Justin Bieber than Gayle retracting past statements and apologising. Likewise, the impasse has shown the pettiness of a national board charged with growing Caribbean cricket. Their lack of foresight in the Gayle saga against a backdrop of continued managerial incompetence and island infighting is killing the proud legacy of the once mighty Windies. At present the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ mantra is being severely tested.
Does Gayle really want to play for his country when he is the most recognisable T20 mercenary in the game? Or does the current situation suit him better? He plays short tournaments in most every cricketing nation, is handsomely paid for it, and gets to enjoy his time away from the restrictions that go with being an international cricketer. Consider this: after a three day test defeat in England at the conclusion of the 2009 IPL, a clearly frustrated Gayle commented he wouldn’t be sad to see test cricket die out in favour of T20 – defeatist loathing or honest observation?
Gayle brings spectators through the gate and gets viewers watching television coverage. Surely the rights are worth more when he plays, not to mention the column inches and website hits directly attributed to him? That has to have a positive effect on West Indies cricket; at least it would if Gayle was playing international cricket. His influence and standing in the current Windies setup was illustrated with the haul of awards he took away from the 2011 WIPA (Players’ Association) awards while he was surplus to requirements thanks to the WICB powerbrokers.
Gayle’s numbers bare out his loss on the field as well. When he captained the Calypso kings he averaged close to eight runs an innings more in tests (at 47.75) and four higher in ODIs (at 43.68), than he did when he was simply the leader. During the last three calendar years he played test cricket, Gayle averaged a touch under 53 – world class. It is worth considering the win-loss ratios of the Windies with and without Gayle:
(e.g. 0.39 equates to 39 wins for every 100 losses)
Clearly, the Windies are a better side when Gayle plays – statistics aren’t everything, but Gayle’s numbers are persuasive. It’s worth remembering that he is one of only four test players who have scored two triple centuries – against Sri Lanka and South Africa.
For much of the past decade, Chris Gayle has been the most prominent attacking force in West Indies cricket. Gayle is not without fault in his disputes with the WICB but he’s good for West Indies cricket – he is their best opportunity for sponsorship dollars, gate revenues and publicity, and of late, that’s certainly needed in the Caribbean. It is questionable though, if he is really interested in the rigours of international cricket and the drop in salary? That said, the WICB needs to do all it can to get him back - he is good for cricket and at a time when entertainment seems to be key. Nothing would make the cricket public happier than seeing Gayle don the maroon cap and start thrashing international attacks.
One final point: for all those jumping on the David Warner bandwagon and waxing lyrical about his crossover to test cricket, cast your mind no further than Gayle – he and Sehwag were the two modern trailblazers bringing unyielding attack to test batting. The only difference is that Warner’s route wasn’t available when Gayle was starting out – let’s revisit his success when he has a few thousand test runs under his belt.