How slender are the margins. Chris Gayle went out to bat for the West Indies today condemned, if not quite in so many words, as a washed-up mercenary wastrel.
Disillusionment abounded with the way he approached his work. The president of his team’s cricket board had felt emboldened to retweet a message during the previous match that said: “Gayle goes... Can’t buy a run. Let’s give him a retirement package... Can’t fail repeatedly and still front up based on reputation.”
Subsequent apologies could not disguise the general antipathy. Gayle was finished as an international batsman, if not as a batsman for hire. It was eight innings since his last fifty, 19 since the most recent of his 21 one-day international hundreds.
And so to his first ball, the fourth of West Indies’ innings against Zimbabwe, delivered by Tinashe Panyangara, who has a reputation for swinging the new ball. It beat Gayle and struck him on both pads.
The umpire, perhaps thinking that one of the noises was the ball grazing the bat, rejected the appeal. Zimbabwe reviewed and replays showed the ball hitting the outside of leg stump but not making enough contact for the decision to be overturned. Had it been given out, it would have stood.
Gayle survived. The social-networking storm that would have definitely ensued was abated, to be replaced 146 balls later by one of a different kind. Gayle’s innings of 215 was the fifth ODI double hundred but the first in the World Cup and also the first outside India.
He struck 16 sixes – a joint record – and 10 fours. The second hundred took 33 balls, he shared a world record ODI partnership of 372 with Marlon Samuels. As it happens (and as it happens, it is no coincidence) Gayle was also the scorer of the first hundred in the World Twenty20.
Gayle has star quality in abundance. He is the eternal rebel, his own man, seemingly unflustered by the opinions of others. He is cool, of course he is cool, and he knows it.
Not all that Gayle does as a cricketer is admirable. When West Indies played England in a practice match in Sydney before this tournament they barely showed up. Indeed Gayle did not. Or at least, he was out first ball, glancing down the leg side, and then decided it was far too much effort to field, so he didn’t.
It is possible to see why he gets the goat of the administrators. Cricketers, like all people, are supposed to mellow, to reflect a little as the years go by. Gayle does not care about any of that. He conveys the impression that he is doing everybody in West Indies cricket a favour by playing.
Conflict has stalked his career in the way that serenity enveloped that of Sachin Tendulkar. He has refused to play, he has been suspended, he has rubbished Test cricket when he was captain of West Indies, he has walked away, he has come back.
In full flow he is a joy to watch because it is all so straightforward. Footwork can be non-existent, the architecture of his strokes is not often elegant. Not for Gayle those fancy modern shots. He is an old-fashioned slugger with a quick eye and a fast bat.
Now he finds himself as the only batsman to have scored a Test triple-hundred (he is one of four to have two), a one-day double-hundred and a Twenty20 hundred.
He said as he left the field in Canberra: “I didn’t want to be out with the first ball. I said: ‘You can’t be serious?’ I just want to thank God for this knock. I was under pressure to score runs, and I kept getting messages from Twitter and on my cellphone. I have never felt this kind of pressure, but in the end I am sure I gave them something to talk about.”
Gayle is 35, and he said, by way of explaining his recent form, that he is feeling his age. Today he rolled back the years and it was glorious.
Innings in numbers
147 Number of balls it took for Gayle to score his 215
105 Balls it took to reach his first ton – and just 33 for second
1 Gayle scored the first World Cup double hundred
3 Was third-highest ODI innings behind Rohit Sharma (264) and Virender Sehwag (219)
16 Gayle’s 16 sixes equalled the ODI record held by Rohit Sharma and AB de Villiers. He also hit 10 fours
372 Gayle and Samuels partnership was an ODI record for any wicket
1 Gayle became the only batsman to hit a century in Twenty20 internationals, a double century in ODIs and a triple century in Tests
152 The Windies’ 152 runs in the last 10 overs is the highest in World Cup history and the second highest in ODIs
199 Gayle’s total number of runs in his previous 19 ODI innings
1 Gayle was the first player to score 200 and take two wickets in the same ODI
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