Old Chris Gayle a fine opener was
A destructive run-scorer was he.
He wielded a broad bat and if to him you bowled
Every ball disappear you could see.
Comparison to Old King Cole hardly does justice to long-standing West Indies stalwart, Christopher Henry Gayle. After all, he is a man who, said Cricket West Indies (CWI) lead selector Roger Harper in March last year, the selection panel ‘thinks (…) can still add great value to our team’.
Not just as a mentor, we subsequently discovered he meant, but as an active member of the playing XI.
In the just completed five-match T20I series against South Africa, however, the self-styled ‘Universe Boss’ cut such a pathetic figure as to invite such comparisons.
In my considered view, it is high time the former West Indies captain face up to the hard reality: it was great while it lasted, Chris, but it is over.
As a send-off, the almost 42-year-old who made his debut in 2000 and served the region’s cricket faithfully and well over two decades deserved a lot better than this recent farce of his masquerading as a number three batsman.
And if WI retain him for the games against Australia, things will only get worse.
True, this is a player who, apart from his 65 T20I matches and 1712 runs, including 110 sixes and 144 fours, boasts 301 ODI matches, almost 10,500 runs, including 25 centuries, 54 half-centuries and a double-century. And in Tests, 103 matches, over 7,000 runs, 15 centuries, 37 half-centuries, 1046 fours, almost 100 sixes—and two triple-centuries to boot!
One of the numerous profiles littering the Internet speaks of Gayle’s leading ‘a batting era characterized by an unreal dependence on hand-eye coordination and breakneck run-scoring…’ Tellingly, it cites three other openers, ‘Tillakaratne Dilshan, Virender Sehwag and, later, Brendon McCullum’. (my emphasis)
The former New Zealand captain, belonging to a post-Gayle era, has already hung up his gloves. But the West Indian soldiers on, more Universe Buffoon these days than Universe Boss.
Gayle bowled two overs in each of Games 4 and 5, finishing with 1 for 11 and 0/15 respectively. In Game 4, he had opener Reeza Hendricks niftily stumped by Nicholas Pooran off the first ball of the second over. When the Fourth Umpire confirmed that part of the batsman’s foot was on the line but none was behind it, to celebrate, à la Kevin Sinclair, Gayle turned a mock cartwheel.
If the young off-spinner’s was a 100m dash, the seasoned opener’s was its 5,000m equivalent!
With the bat, Gayle fared no better. Having sat out Game 3, he posted four scores as follows: 32* off 24 balls, 8 off 6, 5 off 8 and 11 off 9 for an aggregate of 56 runs off 47 balls.
At 39, pacer Fidel Edwards also earned a place in the XI for Games 4 and 5. He claimed 4/40 in his five overs and certainly seemed to do enough to warrant another chance to address the selectors in the Australian series.
Andre Russell turned 31 towards the end of April. His exertions on the cricket field have arguably made his body at least five years older than his calendar age. However, he showed himself fit enough to complete all five games in a single week—a pleasant surprise.
His form, though, disappointed. He had an aggregate of 62 off 41 balls, broken down (oops!) as follows: 23* off 12 balls, 5 off 4, 25 off 16, 9 off 8 and 0 off 1. With the ball, he completed his four-over quota only in Game 4 and finished the series with figures of 14-0-134-4.
At 37, Dwayne Bravo, he of the 79 T20I matches and 72 wickets, remains the best of the WI bowlers on show. His 19 overs yielded ten wickets and 131 runs and he is as big an asset in the field as he was a decade or so ago when he occasionally captained the white ball side.
Despite his recent protestations to the contrary, he has now become a bowler who will occasionally give you a few runs in the lower order—but don’t count on it!
In his four innings, he got 1 off 2 balls, 10 off 6, 0 off 1 and 1 off 2, hardly the returns you expect from a genuine all-rounder.
Bravo’s contribution is not, however, limited to when he is at the crease with bat or ball in hand. It is public knowledge that he has been ‘contracted’ by CWI to mentor the young bowlers. On the evidence of the recent series, that investment is already paying rich dividends.
If and when DJB decides to call time on his career, a 24-year-old is ready and waiting to step into the opening bowler/death bowler role. Obed McCoy’s series figures, 20-0-141-9, compare very favourably with his mentor’s. But they don’t tell the whole story of how well he has been learning his trade, presumably under Bravo’s watchful eye.
So it seems fair to wonder about quid pro quo’s. Not long before Harper’s comments, Bravo called for ‘all these players who we all wanted to play’ to be, like him, brought back into the fold. He did not mean as mentors.
“I am looking forward to playing with him once again in the maroon,” he said of Gayle at the time. “That will be good to see the Universe Boss […] on the field again along with Russell and [Sunil] Narine.”
“Obviously he is on the other side of 40,” he added, “so it is just a matter of managing him properly and picking different series to play him.”
Does anyone need a reminder? Gayle had announced his intention to retire after the World Cup in 2019 and then announced his unretirement shortly thereafter so that he could have one last fling in the 2020 T20 World Cup.
When Covid-19 forced the tournament to be postponed by a year, the hard-hitting left-hander continued to make himself available. Which is understandable.
And continues to be selected. Which, to me, is not.
But any day now, we should know if, in just over a year, the good gentlemen see things any differently. And whether the experiment with experience is likely to continue all the way to India in October.
And, crucially, whether Old Chris Gayle will have to call for his pipe and call for his bowl and call himself a retiree.
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