Colombo: He may have lost out on the race for man of the tournament award to Shane Watson, but this Twenty20 World Cup belonged to one Chris Henry Gayle. For, to my mind, it signalled the return of a prodigal son under the flag of his country — something which he so delightfully flaunted on a magical night for the Caribbean at the R. Premadasa Stadium here on Sunday.
Less than six months back, it almost looked like end of the road for the Jamaican opener as far as his international career was concerned. The cold vibes between Gayle and the cricket establishment in the West Indies had dragged on for well over a year, with the possibility of him being accepted back into the mainstream looking more and more remote by the day.
Gayle had, for his part, looked unperturbed as he was one of the most sought-after batsmen in the new, burgeoning market of T20 franchises. The money was good, so was the high life, so why would he bother to plunge back into the grind of a struggling West Indies team’s fortunes? Or so one thought.
However, to those present at the final against Sri Lanka, the relief and redemption in his face and body language was hard to miss.
The moment the last Sri Lankan wicket fell to give the West Indies their first major international trophy since the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy and a first World Cup in any format in 33 long years, the Gayle on view was a complete departure from the aloof, deadpan demeanour that he usually wears.
The ‘Gangnam star’, as the announcer on the PA system kept referring to him thanks to his new jig, let himself loose — dancing with his teammates for the entire duration of the victory lap, rolling on to the ground with the trophy, obliging the photo hunters’ requests for all kinds of pictures, and wearing that broad grin all the while.
It was a pity that Gayle missed out on a big one in the final, but then it allowed another prodigal son of the West Indies, Marlon Samuels, to play one of the finest innings under pressure in this format of the game.
However, when his team was defending a modest total, the team man in Gayle showed that he cared — be it chipping in with suggestions of field placements one moment or running in from the deep to put a reassuring arm around Ravi Rampaul’s shoulders when the pace bowler came in for some rough treatment in the closing stages.
During his exile from the national team, Gayle had established himself in a talismanic role in the cash-rich Indian Premier League, finishing as top scorer in two editions on the trot, but he couldn’t give his team Royal Challengers Bangalore the trophy. Deep down, though, he must have craved a bigger stage to rule — and the World Cup provided just that, his merciless pummelling of the Australian bowlers in the semi-finals (75 off 40-odd deliveries) being the pick of his innings at this World Cup.
The problem with a supremely gifted individual like Gayle is that, deep down, he belongs in that old school of temperamental Caribbean entertainers like a Brian Lara or Viv Richards. Men who are larger than life, who need that extra bit of pampering from an often unyielding establishment, but extremely necessary if West Indies cricket is to build on their success on Sunday night.
Significantly enough, the architects of their success kept their feet on the ground after the triumph. While skipper Darren Sammy heralded the win only as a step in the right direction, Samuels said they needed to translate this success into Test cricket, which to him is still the “best form” of cricket. This is where Gayle can actually play the role of a mentor and the onus is now on West Indian cricket not to lose him to the T20 bandwagon once again.
Till then, of course, let the party continue!