He was once the best of them. But don’t blush, baby!
He may now be the worst of them. Or close to it…
The day was 21 September 2021 and the self-proclaimed ‘Universe Boss’ Chris Gayle was celebrating his 42nd birthday. It was the first game of the re-started IPL season for the Punjab Kings in the UAE, and it was certainly the right platform and setting for Jamaica’s Mr Dark and Stormy to remind us of just how destructive he could be.
There would be one huge caveat at the Dubai International Stadium on that fateful evening, though. Like myself and the many other armchair supporters and selectors around the region and the world, Gayle was made to be a spectator on that evening as his Punjab team crumbled at the back end of their innings to pull off what must be one of the biggest choke jobs in IPL cricket—maybe even in T20 cricket!
At the peak of his powers, would anyone have the gall to leave out Gayle on his birthday? I think not!
I think you would normally count on Gayle’s sheer bad mind and his muscle memory to give you a substantial total. For me, it was another sign that Gayle doesn’t have the same effect and weight he once had on the international circuit.
An exaggeration? Maybe…
On that day, Gayle’s spot in the Punjab playing XI was surprisingly taken by his exciting countryman and WI team-mate Fabian Allen. The 26-year-old Allen effectively played as a specialist batsman that day as he did not bowl, although skipper KL Rahul used all of six bowling options as Rajasthan Royals got a competitive score of 185.
Typically brilliant in the field, Allen took a ridiculous flying catch on the boundary to see the back of Englishman Liam Livingstone. Allen would have hoped for his outstanding catch to be the lasting memory as Punjab sailed to victory.
It was not to be.
In pursuit of the 186-run target, Punjab got a brilliant 120-run stand for the first wicket between Rahul and Mayank Agarwal, while WI batsman Nicholas Pooran and South Africa’s Aiden Markram also put on 57 for the third wicket.
Off the final over to be bowled by Kartik Tyagi, the Kings needed just four runs. The young Indian seamer completed an over which would definitely make someone like Lasith Malinga proud, conceding just one run and bagging two scalps for good measure.
Off the lone ball he faced, Allen too was not able to deliver. Rajasthan pulled off a quite unlikely and improbable two-run win.
Not for the first time in recent IPL memory, and in almost West Indian fashion, Punjab snatched defeat from the jaws of victory—finishing with egg all over their faces.
And what of Gayle?
He and his 14,000-plus T20 runs were left sitting in the pavilion, the usually broad grin completely wiped off his face. I imagined I heard someone—a naughty Aussie perhaps?—chime in with some phrase about sparing Gayle the blushes, reminiscent of the quip which had landed him in more than a little hot water in the Big Bash back in 2016.
Nine days on from his 42nd birthday, with three League matches still left to play, Gayle decided to call it a day on IPL 2021 journey with Punjab, citing ‘bubble’ fatigue as the reason for his cutting his season short.
Gayle did manage to feature in two games after being left out on his birthday though, but his returns were far from spectacular as he had scores of 14 and 1 against Sunrisers Hyderabad and Mumbai Indians respectively, while Allen was relegated to a spot on the bench.
On his premature personal end to the season, Gayle released a statement saying, “Over the last few months, I have been a part of the CWI bubble, CPL bubble followed by the IPL bubble, and I wish to mentally recharge and refresh myself […] I want to refocus on helping the West Indies in the T20 World Cup and would like to take a break in Dubai.”
With WI set to start the T20 World Cup title defence on October 23with a rematch of the 2016 final against England, regional fans will be hoping that Gayle’s time-off translates into a rejuvenation and a return to form.
Even before the start of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) 2021 tournament, Gayle’s form—and possible selection—had been an area of contention. So when Cricket West Indies (CWI) lead selector Roger Harper announced that the veteran would be a full-fledged member of the West Indies 15-member squad for the upcoming T20 World Cup, the already raging debate was doused with more fuel.
More controversially, Harper indicated that the veteran Gayle had received a medical exemption from CWI’s medical panel and did not need to satisfy the same fitness criteria or meet the same fitness standards that up-and-coming players and CPL 2021 star performers Sherfane Rutherford and Odean Smith had been unable to satisfy, causing both to be ultimately ruled out of contention for selection.
For me, CWI—more properly, CWI’s medical panel’s issuing of medical exemptions—has been a source of bother since Harper announced the squad which will seek to defend their T20 World Cup title later this month. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it so forgive my ignorance if there is something that it seems I genuinely do not understand.
In an interview with i95.5FM’s Andre Errol Baptiste, CWI CEO Johnny Grave sought to bring some clarity to the issue of CWI’s medical exemptions. He indicated that Gayle is one of four WI players across all formats to have been granted a medical exemption.
Grave, however, stopped short of identifying the other three players, while also indicating that Trinidad and Tobago off-spinner Sunil Narine had not made himself available for any test to establish whether or not he met the fitness criteria.
It was a statement which conflicted with what Harper had led the media and the wider Caribbean audience to believe.
And the misinformation, arguably unintended, may well come back to haunt CWI.
And the lead selector and his selection panel.
And us WI supporters, who are all hoping for a successful defence.
And leave us all blushing in embarrassment.