Celebrating Chris Gayle
The last batsman you would ordinarily imagine to be playing 100 Test matches in this era of hyper commercialism is Chris Henry Gayle. Universally acclaimed as the most destructive T-20 batsman of recent times, Gayle, almost without anyone realizing it, is about to play his 100th Test match, making a grand entry to an exclusive club reserved for the very best in the game.
Clearly the best known West Indian cricketer in the post Brian Charles Lara era (and here I am aware of Shivnarine Chanderpaul and his 150 plus Tests), Gayle, many may have forgotten, has a triple hundred in Test cricket something no Indian except Virender Sehwag has been able to achieve.
So why is it that we have not celebrated Gayle - the Test player as much as we have celebrated Gayle - the IPL star? Is it yet again because we love consuming spectacles and Test cricket is hardly a spectacle when compared to the IPL? Or is it also to do with the fact that Gayle, a crusader for rights, has more recently been in and out of the West Indies Test team because of his fraught relationship with the WICB?
Whatever be the real reason, playing 100 Test matches is proof of his determination and commitment to the game. Being the talisman of an ordinary West Indies team can be deflating on occasions and in an atmosphere where T-20 is the real rage, to be able to motivate oneself to play Test cricket can be a challenge. Yet he has done so while also plying his trade in the various T-20 leagues across the world.
Gayle is the quintessential example of the modern day cricketer. One who is perpetually torn between club and country loyalties. Should he opt to play the Big Bash and should he remain loyal to Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), his Indian franchise, ignoring his commitment to the West Indies test team? While many think Gayle would indeed choose T-20 over Test cricket, there's little doubt he has kept intact his passion to Test cricket for well over a decade.
Having said that T-20 is indeed his favourite format. In an interview to me during the T-20 world cup in Sri Lanka in October 2012, Gayle was clear he enjoys playing T-20 the most. It is natural because this is one format where he can actually dominate. Success breeds confidence and understandably he prefers T-20 over Test cricket. However, what is commendable is that he has not given up playing Test cricket. He could easily have retired from Tests and continued to play in the many T-20 leagues across the world making millions of dollars in the process. That he did not is certainly something that needs to be recognized and hailed.
Gayle, for those who know him well, is quite a character. He is fun loving and enterprising, outgoing and witty. As his close friend, Atul Srivastava of Gaames Unlimited and Spartan India states, "He is the only cricketer I have seen who is more concerned with his bat sticker than his bat! While others are concerned with the stroke and the punch of the bat, Gayle is much more interested in the colours of the sticker. He wants the Jamaican colours in the bat sticker and wants his bat to reflect his personality."
Srivastava also highlighted his commitment to friends saying, "If you are in Jamaica he would inevitably come and pick you up at the airport. Not that he needs to but he does. And he was the one who got me to meet Usain Bolt, his very close buddy. It was quite a meeting."
Finally, I must state something about Gayle, which most of my readers will not perhaps know. For someone who hits the ball a 100 plus miles, power is something that comes naturally. Blessed with a fantastic physique, Gayle can create quite an impression at a face to face meeting. However, the moment you shake hands you wonder what on earth is going on? Unlike a Shahid Afridi for example whose palms are as hard as metal, Gayle's are as soft as a pillow. The first thought is with such soft hands how does this man hit the ball a 100 meters? And then you know the answer- talent and commitment, both of which are visible in abundance as Chris Henry Gayle gets ready to play his 100th Test match. It is indeed a monumental achievement, better than all of his T-20 innings combined.