Chris Gayle arrives, hungry and angry
If you are a Rajasthan Royals supporter, you'd better not get in the way of Chris Gayle. The man is angry. Or was angry when he touched down in India. After spending nearly 24 hours on four flights from Kingston (Jamaica) to Ahmedabad, via Miami, London and Mumbai, and across three continents, Gayle checked into the team hotel on Thursday sans baggage and cricket kit, which had been misplaced by the airline. For the rest of the day he stayed locked inside in his room. The mood had not changed much when joined the Kolkata Knight Riders' team meeting - he was the last man in - with his luggage still at large.
Fortunately, the bags were found in time for Gayle's first training session. He opted to not bat immediately on a day of searing heat - the mercury touched the 42-degree mark - and instead limbered up by bowling gentle offbreaks. He later padded up to hit throw-downs for about 20 minutes before settling into the dressing room.
That Dav Whatmore, Kolkata's coach, allowed Gayle to relax was because he is entering the IPL in top form. He was the Man of the Series in the 4-1 ODI series win against Zimbabwe at home, where the surfaces are not too different to the slow and flat tracks across India; that should allow Gayle to settle down quickly and help Kolkata recover the winning momentum.
Gayle is already feeling at home in India, where he says he has a huge fan base - and rightly so. Gayle would also admit that he is yet to pay back his franchise in kind after he was bought for $800,000 during the first IPL auction two years ago, making him not only the most expensive foreigner at Kolkata but also the then highest-paid Caribbean cricketer in the IPL.
Unfortunately, Gayle landed in 2008 on April 19 with a groin injury and returned home 10 days later after failing to recover. In the second season he left the team at the halfway stage with a highest score of 44 not out.
Kolkata too would be hoping for an impressive first proper IPL in India for Gayle, in which he helps the team reverse the misfortunes of the previous two editions. Gayle adds weight to the top order, which on the evidence of the first three games looks susceptible despite two victories. With his aggressive style and ability to tear apart the best attack, Gayle is the right complement to the solidity of Brad Hodge, the most consistent batsman in Twenty20 cricket.
Gayle said he missed out watching Kolkata's three matches as he was busy wrapping up the Zimbabwe series but pointed out that he was aware of his responsibility. "Hopefully, from my end I actually can get some runs as well, and set it up for the team. The team has been playing good. They lost the last game, but hopefully we can get back to winning ways as soon as possible," Gayle said.
Gayle is likely to open with Hodge, pushing Manoj Tiwary into a lower order comprising Angelo Mathews, Wriddhiman Saha and Laxmi Shukla. That will give the middle order a more balanced look.
Gayle knows the bowlers, including the domestic ones, have become smarter at working batsmen out, and it won't be a walk through the park for him. His first test arrives on Saturday, against Shaun Tait or Morne Morkel - or even both of them. Having faced Tait in the two-match Twenty20 series in Australia, Gayle is looking forward to re-ignite the contest, which stands 1-0 in the Australian's favour after he bowled Gayle in the first Twenty20 in Hobart.
"The challenge [batting against Tait] should be interesting, so I am looking forward to it. I am sure he is looking forward to it as well, [but these are] different conditions so we will see what happens," Gayle said.
As the sun set on Motera and the temperatures descended to manageable levels, Gayle's face creased into a smile. The reason was clear: his luggage, with his Ed Hardy T-shirts, designer glasses and denims, had arrived.