Dubai: The T20 World Cup of cricket, scheduled in October-November, is one of the handful of major sporting events which has still not been a casualty due to the coronavirus outbreak sweeping the world. A lingering thought for the fans of West Indies cricket, the defending champions, will be if Chris Gayle – the ‘Universe Boss’ – be a part of it?
There has been a fair amount of ‘Will he, won’t he’ in place when it comes to the ultimate entertainer’s availability for international cricket, with his fitness issues and form often raising questions. During an interaction with the media during the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) earlier this year, Gayle had expressed his desire to play in the event Down Under: “It would be nice (to play in the next T20 WC).”
Last year, the giant Jamaican, now 40, had promised to bid adieu to one-day cricket with the ICC World Cup in England but later had a rethink about it - going on to play in the ODI series against India during which he reached the landmark of 300 one-day appearances. If there was any doubt of ‘now what’ with him in the New Year, Gayle surprised all when he said he wanted to play on till 45 - possibly hinting at the T20 franchise leagues where remains one of the ultimate crowdpullers.
“A lot of people still want to see Chris Gayle out in the middle. I still have that love for the game and that passion for the game. I would love to carry on as long as possible in T20 and franchise cricket as well,” Gayle said - and it did not really sound as one of his practical jokes.
However, much like a handful of the senior statesman of cricket who are even junior to him in age like Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Faf Du Plessis or AB de Villiers (who has been mulling a comeback) from retirement, Gayle would have been looking at the IPL to test his readiness for what could be his last major ICC tournament in the World T20. However, the uncertainty over the marquee event with the lockdown in place in India seriously raises questions if he will eventually be able to add another World T20 to his colourful CV – thereby missing out on what could his final bow from the interational arena.
There is no doubt that Gayle happens to be like a virtual brand ambassador for the T20 format - being the owner of all conceivable records in this format (most hundreds, fastest hundred, most fours and sixes and now 10,000-plus runs) - but this is again a format where there is enough talent in the Caribbean to push him out of his place. Grilled about the possibility of Gayle and senior allrounder Dwayne Bravo making the cut for the World T20 sometime back, batting legend Brian Lara observed that both needed to prove themselves in the IPL to force themselves back in the reckoning.
A look at the list of franchise league teams that Gayle has adorned over the years tells it’s own story about what he means to T20 cricket: Barisal Burners, Chattogram Challengers, Chittagong Vikings, Dhaka Gladiators, Jamaica Tallawahs, Karachi Kings, Kings XI Punjab, Kolkata Knight Riders, Lahore Qalandars, Lions, Matabeleland Tuskers, Melbourne Renegades, Rangpur Riders, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Somerset, St Kitts and Nevis Patriots, Stanford Superstars, Sydney Thunder, Vancouver Knights.
Perhaps the man himself has forgotten a name or two here and there - but it will be a travesty of justice to just categorise him as a champion of the T20 format. Ever since his international debut way back in 1999, Gayle had walked tall as the most influential batsman from the islands after the great Lara - desite having his share of run-ins with the establishment and missing out on a number of years of international cricket.
However, he still remains the most capped player for the West Indies in international cricket and is the only player to score a triplet of centuries – a triple hundred in Tests, double hundred in ODIs and a hundred in T20Is. Gayle is also the highest scorer for the West Indies in the 50-overs format (10,480 runs) and contrary to the popular perception, loved to play his Test cricket where his highest score is 333 versus Sri Lankas.
Where would Gayle, once he quits, rate among batting greats of West Indies? A look at their illustrious rungetters in Tests tells you he occupies the eighth position there with 7214 runs at an average of 42.18. If you look at the names ahead of him in the following order: Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Viv Richards, Gary Sobers, Gordon Greenidge, Clive Lloyd and Desmond Haynes - you realise this ‘maan’ hasn’t done too badly for himself!