Felt even my enemy wanted me to do well - Gayle
Not runs, not victories, not even glory. Over the last 19 months, what Chris Gayle has wanted more than anything else is something to lean on, in more ways than one.
Since he last scored an ODI century in June 2013, Gayle has battled not only a nagging back injury that affects everything from his preparation for matches to the way he sits, but also nagging criticism. Gayle has been targeted by everyone from fans to the president of his own cricket board, who retweeted a message that called for Gayle to be given a "retirement package," after he failed to fire in the first two World Cup games.
David Cameron deleted the message and apologised, but his actions left an impression, particularly on Gayle. "As a player, you're disappointed to see where it came from. You need support in a World Cup event so to get support would be fantastic. Negatives are not needed," Gayle said. "I'm still playing with an injury and I've been restricted in a lot of areas. I haven't been able to score the runs."
Gayle's injury, which he says "can't seem to be solved," means he cannot go to the gym as often as he would like to. He has been "trying to do a lot of massage," to ease it but admitted it still impacted the way he approached the game. "I am in an uncomfortable situation to be honest. Being strong mentally is what keeps me going."
Keeping his own mind focused has not been easy either, especially because of the fuss created over his lack of form. Everywhere Gayle turned he was reminded about his struggle for runs. "There has been a lot of pressure," he said.
It was only when Gayle decided to see that expectation as a collective cheer that he could see how it would be possible to feed off it. "This is the first time since I've been playing international cricket that I have received so many messages. It felt like even my enemy wanted me to do well," he said. "Around the world, I have entertained a lot of people, and I felt like they all wanted me to do it again. Even last night, I was having dinner with Sulieman Benn and he said, 'Chris, you average over 50 against Zimbabwe,' so it felt like everybody wanted me to do well and I really wanted to get some runs."
That was why when Gayle saw Dwayne Smith dismissed for a duck it only deepened his resolve to dig in. "We didn't want to put ourselves under tremendous pressure," he said. But a review against Gayle in the same over almost did exactly that. He could barely believe the replay when he saw the ball pitching in line and hitting in line. "I said, 'Oh you're kidding me,' although those were not the exact words," he said. And it was a "big relief" when he saw the ball going over the top of the stumps on the tracker.
He had a chance so he wanted to "take the bull by the horns" and make it count. He worked hard early on and decided on a strategy to just keep Zimbabwe at bay before attacking. "We wanted to push them back as early as possible. Then you can pick and choose which bowlers you can take your chances against more later on," he said.
Tinashe Panyangara and Tafadzwa Kamungozi were two of the Zimbabwean bowlers that Gayle picked on, as he approached and then passed a double-century. He called the milestone among his "best ever". It brought runs, victory and glory.
Most importantly, it was Gayle's way of repaying the support even as some predict his international career may be entering its twilight. Gayle denied that, hoping instead for another high noon: "This innings will ignite a lot of my passion. It's a new beginning. I am going to try and build on it as much as possible."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent