Gayle's chance at a better run
Legend has it that Chris Gayle's penchant for clearing the boundary developed when he discovered it was easier to do that than run between the wickets. You only have to watch a West Indies' training session to understand where the myth sprouted from.
While his team-mates bound about, Gayle sticks to saving his legs, if he is at practice at all. A near-crippling back injury has kept him on the sidelines more often than he has liked, and the result is that he has not been on a run, in the figurative sense, in almost six years.
His last period of ODI form came between April 2008 and July 2009, when he scored four of his 22 centuries along with five fifties in 29 matches at an average of 45.57. Before that Gayle had profitable patches early in his career - four fifties in succession in 2002, three hundreds in four innings that same year against India, back to back centuries at the 2006 Champions Trophy - but his recent big scores have been followed by lengthy lean periods.
After his 125 against New Zealand in July 2012, Gayle had just four scores over 20 from his next 14 innings, before scoring 109 against Sri Lanka. That was followed by two scores over 20 from his next 10 innings before he managed a half-century against Bangladesh. It was another eight innings after that, before his 215 came.
Faf du Plessis joked that it was "unfortunate that Zimbabwe decided to bowl Chris Gayle into some really good form", but Gayle's record suggests South Africa may not have to be too nervous about Gayle blowing them over like he did to their neighbours, unless, according to Ian Bishop, he can replicate the most important part of what he did right against Zimbabwe.
"One of the things I liked about his innings against Zimbabwe, which I think he has been trying for a while, is that he got himself in. Everyone says he should go in and have a dash. I disagree. I think he is good enough to get himself in," Bishop told ESPNcricinfo at an ICC event in Sydney.
Although Gayle did not bat slowly against Zimbabwe, he was noticeably watchful upfront, especially after surviving a lbw shout off his first ball that was reviewed. Gayle's first four came after seven balls, he hit just one six and faced 27 dot balls in his first fifty runs. The time he took to his get eye in is what Bishop thinks allowed him to stay in, which is why Shaun Pollock advised South Africa to put all their energy into removing Gayle early.
"Before he gets properly in, from a technical perspective, there are ways you can get him out. Within the first few deliveries you bowl to him, we've seen it in South Africa, you can get him out cheaply," Pollock said. "But once he gets going you have to make sure each bowler has a clear game plan."
If Gayle is allowed to gust freely, Pollock would like to see bowlers challenge him by forcing him to look for runs in areas he does not usually score in. "There is an obvious hitting zone, you can see which balls disappear. He loves to play the ball straight down the ground so you if you can take him out of that comfort zone, bowl in different areas and make him try and score in different areas, you can get him out too," he said.
If that fails, Bishop had told South Africa to fight fire with fire and unleash everything they have at Gayle. "If you've got pace, you've got to run hard at him, you've got to be aggressive to him," Bishop said. "Every bowler in the world has to be precise. Chris is an excellent player but his footwork may be a little bit slower."
Age is creeping up on Gayle, as it did on Jacques Kallis. When Kallis began skipping more training sessions than he took part in and workload was spoken about as something that needed to be managed, twilight found his career. The same could be happening to Gayle. AB de Villiers said his RCB team-mate "doesn't train often" because "he needs to look after himself". There has even been talk among those in the know that Gayle could call time on his ODI career after the World Cup.
"He has obviously found it a little more challenging in fifty-over cricket in the last couple of years. Fitness wise, it's also a challenge. Can he stay fit?" Bishop asked. "If he continues scoring runs and if he is happy, he is the only one who can judge if he wants to continue ... But the team enjoy him, they enjoy his success and he keeps them going."
So much so that Bishop believes Gayle's knock in Canberra has completed the batting outfit and put West Indies on course for the quarter-finals. "It has buoyed them hugely," Bishop said, and the first mention of Gayle to Jason Holder confirmed it. "Chris is one of the most jovial people in the dressing room. He brings a lot of fun and he is a real team man. It was really good to see him get runs," Holder said. "He has set the benchmark in world cricket, in a sense. We love him." And they would love him to get on a good run too.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent