A thick outside edge off 23-year-old Indian bowler Basil Thampi down to third man, and a nonchalantly trotted single. An anticlimactic way to become the first batsman to reach 10,000 runs in Twenty20 cricket, but there you go. Maybe it was nerves. He hit the next ball he faced off the same bowler over mid-off for six. That’s much more like it.
No player is as synonymous with T20 cricket as Christopher Henry Gayle of the West Indies. Having finally reached the landmark yesterday, Gayle ensures his place at the summit of the pantheon of gods of the modern game. His nearest challenger, former New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum, currently sits on 7596. Gayle’s stats might only tell half the story, but it’s still some story. 10,074 runs at an average of 40.62, a strike rate of 149.51, and 743 sixes; 284 more than his closest challenger. No one has bossed T20 cricket since its inception quite like the self-styled ‘Universe Boss’.
Now 37, Gayle’s powers are clearly on the wane. The iconic innings are becoming less and less frequent, and his characteristic slow starts are often characterised more by poor shots, edges outside off stump, and holing out to spinners, than by a barrage of fours and sixes. Which perhaps make it all the sweeter every time he is able to muster one more highlight reel innings. It might have been ironic for the man who’s hit more boundaries than anyone else in this form of the game to go to 10,000 with a single, but the rest of his innings was vintage Gayle. Basil Thampi might have gotten his revenge, catching the big man with an LBW, but by that time Gayle had hit seven sixes on his way to 77 off 38 deliveries.
But between 2011 and 2015, the ‘Gayle Storm’ was a near constant phenomena. The Kingston killer of bowlers smashed his way to 15 T20 hundreds in that time, carting bowling attacks around the world out the park from the IPL in India, to Bangladesh, Australia, Zimbabwe and England. During that period, the next most destructive batsman managed just the five centuries. And on the 23rd of April 2013, the globe-trotting God of T20 cricket played an innings that was special even by his stratospheric standards.
I actually remember it very well, it was my first season watching the IPL, and I was in double English at the time. 2 hours of who knows what on the spin, but whatever it was, it paled in comparison to what was happening a million miles away in Bangalore. The highest score, the fastest half-century, and the fastest century in T20 cricket all belonged to Brendon McCullum, who smashed 158 off 73 balls in the first ever match in the IPL back in 2008. For whatever reason, Gayle decided that this day was the day to break a record. Glancing at my friend’s phone every few minutes or so, what unfolded before our eyes was like a mutated series of binary code. 4,6,0,6,6. Rinse and repeat. After a decent start of 22 runs off 11 balls, Gayle smashed his first six off of Australian all-rounder Mitchell Marsh, and the rest is history. That over went for 28, and by the time Gayle strolled off the pitch at the end of 20 overs he left nothing except destruction and broken bowlers in his wake. 175 runs off 66 balls, with 13 fours and 17 sixes, the most ever in a T20 game. Gayle’s 50 took him 17 balls, his century took just 13 more. The fastest century in T20 cricket, the highest score in T20 cricket. The king of the format had finally reclaimed his throne.
Much of Gayle’s career is now viewed through the lens of nostalgia, his best days clearly in the rear view mirror. To some purists, his success is an affront, his power hitting indicative of nothing more than the imbalance prevalent in what they sneeringly refer to as ‘baseball cricket’. But to me, and millions of others around the world, Gayle is one of a select group that took what could have been a gimmicky format and helped it take over the world. If the IPL is India’s sporting Bollywood, then Gayle is its leading man, a face recognisable the world over. Even in the twilight of his career, he remains box office, impossible to take your eyes off at the crease. And innings like yesterday are the reason why. Here’s to you, Christopher Henry Gayle, and may you give us plenty more before you’re done.