Hurricane Gayle bows to loyal team-mates
This is not the story of the Hauricane. It's the story of the Gayle that engulfed the Hauricane. Chris Gayle said during the week that batting against Nathan Hauritz was like facing himself and now it's clear exactly what he thinks of his own bowling. The six that Gayle struck off Hauritz that took him into the 90s was probably the biggest ever seen in an international at the WACA.
The Lillee-Marsh Stand has five tiers and Gayle reached the top of them all, landing the ball on the roof and roughly 110 metres from where it started. The crashing noise when it hit the tin roof was so loud that the crowd's cheers couldn't drown it out. The ball rolled into a gutter and was recovered by a cameraman but could just as easily have bounced out onto Hay Street.
What is it about the WACA? Three of the six fastest hundreds in Tests have been at the venue, which is far from the smallest ground in the world. There was Roy Fredericks' 71-ball effort in 1975-76 and Adam Gilchrist's 57-ball Ashes blitz three years ago, not to mention Mark Waugh's near-century 12 years ago when he launched Daniel Vettori onto the same roof in what can be Gayle's only competitor for the biggest stroke at the ground.
It was one of six sixes in Gayle's 102 - another in Hauritz's next over brought up the fifth-fastest hundred in Test history - and was easily the most memorable moment in an unforgettable innings. It had some competition: there was a nonchalant flick off his pads and onto the hill off Doug Bollinger and a pair of consecutive sixes off Hauritz at precisely the moment that the WACA president Dennis Lillee was praising Gayle as the state's star Twenty20 signing for this season.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the shot was that he said it wasn't his biggest six - not by a long way. Most players could try for their entire career and never hit the WACA roof but Gayle was nonplussed. Earlier this year he launched a rocket off Jeetan Patel into some poor Napier resident's backyard in a one-day international against New Zealand and he is certain that six was bigger than this Perth missile.
"I have hit balls further than that before," he said. "I don't think that one went too far, to be honest with you. I just stroked it a bit. It wasn't muscle or anything, just timing. A good bat, so you have to take that into consideration as well."
It's no surprise that Gayle can play like this - he's been doing similar things for a decade. What was more unexpected was his subdued, patient 165 at the Adelaide Oval last week. The two contrasting innings showed a real maturity in Gayle. In Adelaide he knew that he had to hold off Australia's bowlers and accumulate a big lead for his team; here he was aware that they needed to win to level the series and quick runs were the best way to overcome Australia's 520.
For a man who said last year that he wouldn't be sad if Test cricket disappeared, he has enjoyed the format over the past 12 months, with 949 runs at 59.31 and five centuries. His captaincy is often criticised and his laid-back approach irks some more proactive former skippers, but when Gayle reached his century and knelt on the ground, bowing to his colleagues in the dressing-rooms, it was clear that theirs were the only opinions that mattered to him.
"I praised my team-mates, each and every one," Gayle said. "There has been speculation published and so forth and I have the support of them. I really acknowledge and respect that. Being captain, I think it changed me a bit more and also you have to take into consideration I'm getting a bit more mature as well, getting to know my game a bit more."
He was frustrated at getting out to a soft shot soon afterward for 102, when he spooned Bollinger straight to point, but by that stage he had given his team and the fans 104 minutes of bliss. He'd also taken 32 off 19 balls he faced against Hauritz. Finally, the Hauricane damage was complete.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo