April 27, 2013

How does one bowl to Chris Gayle?

Mission impossible? Not quite
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Following the incredible Chris Gayle spectacle in Bangalore earlier this week, cricketers around the world must be wondering exactly what this man did to produce such a performance - besides having pancakes, an omelette and hot chocolate for breakfast, which will now probably be declared the staple diet for T20 batsmen everywhere.

Gayle made the Pune Warriors bowlers look schoolboyish, and an international stadium like a backyard (though his cause was helped quite a bit by a bit of a pedestrian performance by the opposition).

Gayle's aura is such that most teams now opt for a radically different approach to assess what total would be par for course when playing Royal Challengers Bangalore. The consensus - and not without reason - is that the aim should be to post a total and hope Gayle gets out cheaply, because when he fires, no total is insurmountable, no bowler threatening enough, no ground big enough.

Once set, Gayle hits sixes at will, and does so with percentage cricket shots at that. He isn't one to look for a lap shot or a reverse sweep; he prefers to hit in the V, and so connects more often than not. And his power does the rest, taking the ball over the ropes.

In spite of the heroics he produces regularly, Gayle has his weak spots, like the rest of us. While he possesses an air of invincibility, he is liable to bungling occasionally. Here are some points for teams to consider when putting down plans for Gayle.

Attack first up
As a T20 freelancer, Gayle is acutely aware of the importance of being consistent in this volatile format. He needed to find a template that allowed him to optimise his strengths and also score consistently. So he has looked to resist the temptation to try to exploit the field restrictions at the start, and has looked to give the first few balls or overs to the bowlers instead. By playing a few balls out quietly, he gives himself more chances to succeed.

This offers the opposition a small window to dismiss him in, by bowling attacking lines and lengths, with fielders in catching positions. It makes sense at this point to shelve the typical T20 lines and lengths and adopt a more conventional Test match bowling strategy. If there's some swing on offer and the bowler has the ability to move it away from the left-hander, he must pitch the ball fuller and pitch outside the off stump, inviting him to drive through the off. While Gayle plays most shots in the book, he isn't the best driver of the cricket ball when it is new and moving. Though he doesn't mind leaving a few deliveries alone, there's a chance that he might fall for one that's too tempting to resist.

"To make a batsman play an attacking shot is the biggest challenge a spinner faces"
Stuart MacGill

However, right-arm bowlers angling the ball across him with the swing don't quite do it, for Gayle, like most left-handers, gauges the angle quickly and leaves them alone. If a left-arm quick is capable of taking the ball away at pace, he has a reasonable chance of dislodging Gayle.

Cramp him for room
Chris Morris and Dirk Nannes discovered another way of getting the better of Gayle in Royal Challengers' match against Chennai Super Kings. Instead of bowling length on the fourth-stump line, they bowled quick and into his body. It wasn't a barrage of bouncers but more just cramping him for room, with most balls finishing at thigh height.

Both bowlers peppered him so much with that line that they got Gayle to abandon his template. He played a couple of uncharacteristic shots, trying to put the bowlers off their game, seemingly not realising that they were trying to do the same to him. Eventually Morris succeeded, getting Gayle caught as he attempted a wild heave to a wide delivery - a ball he would have left alone on other occasions.

Morris and Nannes made a concerted and relentless effort to bring Gayle out of his comfort zone and they succeeded. The contest may have lasted only ten balls, but it was worth watching for the drama.

Spin it away
This is a bit of a hit-or-miss strategy to counter Gayle. If it was guaranteed to work, every team would play an offspinner against him. While even part-time offspinners have managed to dismiss him a couple of times, it is the quality ones who have earned respect consistently from the big Jamaican.

R Ashwin got him a couple of times in last year's IPL by inducing a false stroke, and since then, Gayle has changed his approach against offspinners: instead of going after them, he prefers to milk them for singles and attack the bowler at the other end.

"To make a batsman play an attacking shot is the biggest challenge a spinner faces," Stuart MacGill said recently on his show The Cricket Club. While T20 cricket does that bit for a spinner by default, for everyone is trying to hit the spinners out of the ground, it's not a given with Gayle, who is likely to play safe early on. So even if it's worth gambling with a spinner early on, the quality of the bowler makes all the difference - you need one who can make Gayle play an attacking shot and induce a mistake.

It would be worth watching someone get the better of him. The small battles between batsman and bowler are what make the big contest fascinating. While most bowling plans go out of the window once Gayle gets going, it is better to plan and fail than to not plan at all.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • playitstraight on April 30, 2013, 14:35 GMT

    If you let Gayle last more than 10 overs, it's basically over. Just a piece of advice.

  • dummy4fb on April 30, 2013, 13:36 GMT

    Some time ago in a series against SL, Vass completely bamboozle Chris.He bowled a tight line left arm over the wicket,pitching middle and leg and straightening.It worried the WI and in the end he did not open but batted at no. 4. Never give him room,don't bowl short unless you are express pace.BOWL AT THE STUMPS NO LENGTH BALLS.

  • dummy4fb on April 29, 2013, 13:13 GMT

    Hey Akash, The BD spinner Sohag Gazi got Gayle out 5 times during our series with Windies. So, right arm spin does work against him, guess not many quality right arm offies around. Would have been great if you mentioned this in your analysis

  • dummy4fb on April 29, 2013, 2:42 GMT

    @ David Booer: 'How many batsmen have two triple centuries in test cricket?' You ask. The answer is four; namely: Bradman, 1930 vs Eng (334), 1934 vs Eng (304) Lara, 1994 vs Eng (375), 2004 vs Eng (400) [Yes it can be argued this is not a triple but for the purposes of this it will do because Lara had to go past 300 to get to 400] Sehwag, 2004 vs Pak (309), 2008 vs SAf (319) Gayle, 2005 vs SAf (317), 2010 vs Sri (333). And that, would make a brilliant top 4. (in order: Gayle; Sehwag; Bradman; Lara)

  • dummy4fb on April 29, 2013, 1:15 GMT

    Just to say to everyone who says Chris Gayle can't bat against good bowlers: who was bowling to him when he got 92* at the start of this IPL? And who was that against? Also, how many batsmen have 2 triple centuries in test matches? I think he can play good bowlers.

  • G-Rocker on April 28, 2013, 22:17 GMT

    Mr.Gayle was a supper flop against Bangladesh in last BD Vs Wi series...every one should learn from BD bowlers.

  • dummy4fb on April 28, 2013, 20:40 GMT

    You just need an international quality bowler for Chris Gayle. Players that are brilliant at what they do such as Steyn for pace and Narine for spin are the trick against gayle.

  • 3rd-man on April 28, 2013, 16:36 GMT

    Watching Malinga and Johnson bowling to Gayle was like watching a couple of wolves harrassingand chasing down a bull elk into submission - made my hair stand on end! Now every team in the IPL will try to follow Mumbai's successful formula - but they need fast and bouncy tracks and quality fast bowlers to exploit it.

  • KashifTasneem on April 28, 2013, 10:41 GMT

    I dont know why everyone is praising Gayle's knock? He scored a superb 175 not out but against whom? Those were not International bowlers, those were local players not having experience and probably lacking talent as well. What did Gayle do against Mumbai Indians? He flopped because there he was facing World Class bowlers like Malinga, Johnson and Harbhajan. Yes, he does hit, he does score runs but we should keep in mind that against whom he scores runs? He is consistent in IPL? Is he the same consistent on International level? No, he isnt. Reason quality of bowling. Always keep in mind these things. Thank you

  • dummy4fb on April 28, 2013, 10:05 GMT

    well with gayle, really you just need a swing and seam bowler as shown by starc. likes of shami ahmed, B Kumar, steyn, irfan pathan, junaid khan (even though he plays for pakistan), Ben Cutting should be able to dismiss him early with new ball. But if he bats with sense (which he does more often in T20) and survive the 6-over period, then he is unstoppable. banglore's attack is not the best so the ideal situation for opposition team is to bat first and post a big total. that will put pressure on gayle forcing him to attack from the start.