Banglaore: Many years ago, in an interview, Sir Vivian Richards told this columnist that it was nearly impossible to separate the personal from the political. For people like him who were in their teens when the Civil Rights movement was at its peak in the US and Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of having a dream, cricket was never about runs, wickets and catches alone. The line that sticks in my mind to this day is: “It was all about getting respect.”
At first glance, there’s little that’s political about Christopher Henry Gayle. The self-proclaimed Universe Boss is all about the personal – the Instagram posts, tweets, the bling and the customized, flashy suits. So, it was interesting that the word that cropped up most often after he scored the first century of the 2018 Indian Premier League (IPL) was ‘respect’.
It is not Gayle’s fault that by the time he made his debut for West Indies, the team and a proud tradition were heading downhill at Alberto Tomba pace. The cynics will say that he and others did not do enough to safeguard that legacy. But as Brian Lara memorably said in an interview a year before he retired: “You wouldn’t have indisciplined players if the board was disciplined.”
For years, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) has been a joke, and not in a funny Mr. Bean kind of way. And few individuals have been messed around by that entity quite like Gayle has. After a couple of failures at the start of the 2015 World Cup, Dave Cameron, the board president put out a derogatory tweet about Gayle, suggesting it was time for him to vamoose.
Even by the low standards we have come to expect from cricket administrators, it was an astonishing gaffe. A board official, the one at the very top of the tree, slating a player on a public forum. Gayle responded with 215, and a record partnership with Marlon Samuels, in the next game against Zimbabwe.
After the century against Sunrisers Hyderabad, who have the most balanced bowling attack in the IPL, Gayle insisted that he had nothing to prove to anyone. That is only half-true. The last couple of seasons have not been kind to him. From the time he joined Royal Challengers Bangalore as an injury replacement for Dirk Nannes in 2011, Gayle was one of the IPL’s totems.
For half a decade, he dominated the batting charts, scoring over 2,500 runs at a strike-rate well in excess of 150. In a format considered hit-and-miss, he mastered that elusive C word – consistency. There were few frills in the Gayle method, based as it was on stillness at the crease and enormous power, but it worked a treat against pace and spin alike.
Things started to go south in 2016. He came good toward the end of the season, but a stiff back and the lack of athleticism in the field meant that he was no longer considered indispensable in the way that Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers were. A few months later, his involvement with the Big Bash League in Australia wound to a close after a cringe-worthy episode with a female on-field reporter.
He did not come close to matching his best during the 2017 IPL (200 runs at a strike-rate of 122.69 in nine matches), and it was no great surprise when Bangalore opted not to retain him before the auction earlier this year. What’s more, they did not even put in a perfunctory bid when his name came up twice. But for Virender Sehwag, the Kings XI Punjab coach-mentor, there would not even have been an IPL for Gayle.
He, of course, put it very differently, thanking Sehwag for ‘saving the IPL’. Being cut adrift by Bangalore, after seven seasons, undoubtedly hurt, and it will have been noted that while Gayle has just scooped two man-of-the-match awards, Sarfaraz Khan – the third player that Bangalore opted to retain after Kohli and de Villiers – has barely made a run.
Behind the bravado and the bluster is a sensitive man, one convinced that he has not received the respect that his achievements – two Test triple-centuries as well, lest we forget – deserve. As much as the urge to keep proving his critics wrong, what motivates Gayle is the arm around the shoulder. Sehwag, who played his best cricket in precisely such an environment, is the perfect person to do that. The rest of the league has been warned.