Playing hot, staying cool
Watching Chris Gayle bat takes one back to one's teens, when the school bully would haunt and mesmerize you with his big hitting. At the cricket clinic, they'd teach you to lift your left elbow high and get in line with the ball. "Get your head over the ball and smell the leather," the coach would say. And, as you struggled with those instructions, out would stride the local Gayle, tall and cool, merrily swinging his bat. And the ball would fly. Then he'd order you to give him the strike and you'd comply meekly.
Today was another instalment of the Gayle show. On the fifth ball he survived a simple drop chance, courtesy the butter-fingered Goel, off an intended short-arm pull. Three quiet balls later, he began his sequence. The loose limbs sent the ball crashing over cover point. The next over Irfan Pathan got it straighter; Gayle almost knocked the umpire's head off. Pathan tried to change his length with a short ball; it was eventually picked up from the square leg boundary. Pathan then went for a length ball. It sailed over long-on, almost sucked in by the delirious fans who, for the first time in the day, really started to get into things. Gayle has that effect.
There is a perception, warranted to an extent by his style of play, that there is little technique; it's almost village cricket. It's an accusation levelled at most of the big players who keep the game simple. Watch Gayle closely, though, and there's a delightfully simple technique at work. He has a wide, spread stance, crouches a touch on bent knees to get the centre of gravity down and stays still. Very still. As the bowler, in this case Irfan, finishes his delivery stride and releases the ball, Gayle uncoils into action. His stance means he doesn't have to move too far forward or back. The problem is when he is not quite to the length or the ball starts seaming around - Gayle does get squared up a lot on tougher pitches. Not today, though.
There was a touch of pre-determination from him but again the movement was late. He moved his back foot across, took his front leg outside the line of the ball and got into a position to swing across to the on side. He lifted VS Malik into the midwicket stands and, when the bowlers dug in short, his balance allowed him to cut it over point.
Of course, he had his share of luck. Not only did Goel drop him, Sangakkara too failed to hold on to a nick off the leggie Piyush Chawla. A bully's luck.
The match wouldn't have been complete without Mr Cool showing his signature style on the field. The batsman Goel edged a flash to the left of first slip, where Gayle was stationed. Second slip lunged to his right. The calm Gayle swayed to his left. There was a blur of activity and for that moment the ball was lost from sight. Slowly, Gayle broke into a smile as his team-mates converged on him. That was as much emotion as one gets from Gayle (unless you are Michael Clarke and have rubbed him the wrong way).
Later, his captain Brendon McCullum said he knew that as long as Gayle got going, they didn't have to bother about those two kill-joy gentlemen Duckworth and Lewis. "The only thing we have decided here, in these conditions, is to take the first two overs quietly. You don't want to lose an early wicket and keep chasing the game. You sort of get an idea about the D/L score but there were no sheets passed around in the dressing room. With Gayle going the way he did …" His voice trailed off. There was no need to say anything else.
Karna S is a freelance cricket writer