Swansong: Arguably the greatest T20 batsman in the history of the game, Chris Gayle is ending with a whimper

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November 07, 2021 5:30 AM

Maybe, Gayle’s franchise life will continue for a few more years outside the IPL, for at the open auction next year he is unlikely to be called back to the world’s most high-profile T20 league.

Gayle at the T20 World Cup in Dubai, UAE (AP Photo)Gayle at the T20 World Cup in Dubai, UAE (AP Photo)

Chris Gayle’s dismissal against Sri Lanka had a touch of melancholy. The self-styled ‘Universe Boss’, who overpowered bowling of every ilk for two decades, fell prey to a length ball from Binura Fernando because he couldn’t give enough power to his shot. As he trudged back to the dug-out, it felt like the end of an era.

Four matches and 30 runs at this World Cup, the ‘Six Machine’ has hit only one over-boundary in this tournament yet. Singles and twos that he always abhorred, were never going to make up for a power-hitting slump, at 42 years of age. Arguably the greatest T20 batsman in the history of the game, Gayle is ending with a whimper. A West Indies team that won the 2012 and 2016 World T20 titles is fast reaching the end of a cycle.

Minutes after Gayle’s dismissal and with the Caribbeans going deeper in the mire, a post from Samuel Badree popped up on Twitter. “Sadly, the T20 dynasty comes to an end. Winners in 2012, semi-finalists in 2014 and winners in 2016. @windiescricket will need to rebuild with its good crop of young players and evolve as the format has since those magical days!” Rebuild is the need of the hour and in all likelihood, Gayle will not be a part of that. Millennials who grew up watching the ‘Six Machine’ churning out sixes on order would struggle to believe that his maiden Test hundred, 175 against Zimbabwe way back in 2001, didn’t have a single maximum. He was eventually run-out and that was when Gayle decided that enough of running, let’s just hit sixes. The Big Man was pretty tongue in cheek during his conversation with Oaktree Sports on YouTube. The actual realisation of living life and playing cricket king-size came a few years later following a heart surgery in 2006.

“Beep, beep, beep…” that’s how Gayle’s autobiography Six Machine starts. A hospital cabin in Melbourne provided the settings, wires going into Gayle’s body, when his West Indies teammates were preparing for a Test against Australia. “Nobody knows that I was diagnosed with a hole in my heart in Australia, not even my parents. I was forced to undergo a surgery and I only informed my parents after the procedure,” Gayle had said at the launch of his autobiography six years ago.

The life-turning moment carried a realisation: “It was a life-changing moment for me. Thereafter I decided to enjoy my life to the fullest and I’m still doing so.”

Victim of a troubled childhood, a scrawny kid from a tin-roofed shack in the backstreets of Kingston, Gayle wrote about “sharing a bed with three brothers and stealing empty bottles to buy food”. It offers an eerie similarity with Romelu Lukaku’s childhood story. The footballer still had some social security of a First World country, Belgium. Gayle, coming from Jamaica, had only one escape route – cricket.

And how he bossed bowling with a piece of willow! Gayle drew the Zlatan Ibrahimovic analogy in his autobiography, which never felt out of place. “There are things only I can get away with. No one else would even try them. Hitting Matthew Hoggard for six fours in an over. Hitting 37 off a single over in the IPL. A century off 30 balls, another one on one leg. If Zlatan Ibrahimovic were a cricketer, it’s the sort of thing he would be trying.”

Spare a thought for his Test career also and the two triple centuries that he scored. It’s a small club of more than one triple centurions comprising a certain Don Bradman, Brain Lara and Virender Sehwag as other three members. “If you want to see Sehwag on the dance floor, you need to come to that club,” Gayle joked on the YouTube programme, without a hint of offence, and embracing laughter. Someone who refuses to take life seriously, let alone cricket, maybe he will accept his World Cup failure and an uncertain future as a cricketer with a smile. He walked out of the IPL before the T20 World Cup, getting bored with the bubble life. He tweeted about “going to Pakistan tomorrow” after New Zealand had abruptly pulled the plug on a tour just hours before the first ODI at Rawalpindi. Flamboyance, though, could hardly mask his ride “on a downbound train” as a batsman over the last couple of years. His impact knocks have been sporadic. And when he didn’t score runs, he barely contributed in the field.

Maybe, Gayle’s franchise life will continue for a few more years outside the IPL, for at the open auction next year he is unlikely to be called back to the world’s most high-profile T20 league.

As the marauder walked into the Abu Dhabi sunset on Thursday, when large parts of this country celebrated Diwali with fervour, the journey of an ageing Caribbean team also seemingly came to a halt. Their Fab Four – Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell – all with lots of miles in their legs, couldn’t prevent the side from faltering.

“Unless you are part of the decision that is going to get rid of me or fire me or retire me, as I stand right now, I have no intentions of not playing international cricket. One tournament or a couple bad games don’t make a summer,” West Indies captain Pollard stonewalled the transition question at the post-match press conference. But the country’s cricket hierarchy is expected to take a decision and going ahead, they have the likes of Shimron Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran to bank upon.

Coming back to Gayle, he is a winner and almost always had the last laugh, when critics earlier wrote him off, or his fight with the West Indies cricket establishment. But this time, it could be a bridge too far.

“If I’m going down, I’m going down in style. I’m going down blazing. Going down blazing, swinging the bat, swinging the blade. Even if I’m in the hospital, give me a shot of rum. Gimme a shot a drink, ar-kay? And then say goodbye…” That’s the man in his autobiography.

His cricket in this tournament didn’t have the blaze. And his walk towards the pavilion looked self-resigned.

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