March 20, 2016

Gayle and the art of work-life balance

Like the legendary Garry Sobers before him, the West Indian has not allowed his lifestyle to affect his batting

Chris Gayle: always game for pre- and post-match revelry © AFP

Chris Gayle warmed up, so to speak, for West Indies' opening match in the World T20 at a Mumbai disco in the company of Bollywood starlet Sneha Ullal. He was there for the launch of the latest single of close pal, team-mate and emerging rap artist Dwayne Bravo. Photos appeared on Instagram and in the Indian papers. Ullal described Gayle as "such a cool person" after they "danced and chatted".

A couple of days later, the muscular left-hander had switched venues from the disco to the Wankhede Stadium, where he belted a T20 international record 11 sixes in an unbeaten 100 off 48 balls, steering West Indies to the winning target of 183 with 11 balls to spare over England. "Aggressive as usual," Ullal tweeted.

Gayle's similar exploits over several seasons in the IPL rendered it virtually routine for the thousands packed into the stands. His unbeaten 175 off 66 balls for Royal Challengers Bangalore against Pune Warriors in April 2013 remains the highest score in the game's shortest format, the 17 strikes into the crowd the record for most sixes.

It is not recorded whether he prepared for that performance with a night out; it would be surprising if he hadn't. His trait of mixing the Caribbean partiality for a good time off the field with performance on it is common to several of his contemporaries, and, as was evident from the Under-19 players in their World Cup triumph in Bangladesh in February, their successors as well.

It was reflected in the exuberant "Gangnam Style" dance Gayle choreographed as he and his team-mates celebrated victory in the 2012 World T20 in Colombo, and more recently in the teenagers' joyful "chest roll" frolic after their win in the final over India.

Cricket's shortest format arrived three decades after the end of the celebrated career of another West Indian, Garry Sobers, the most accomplished player the game has known. It is not difficult to imagine what his all-round versatility would have been worth in today's various T20 leagues, which have made millionaires of Gayle and so many others.

Like Gayle and his colleagues, Sobers found relaxation away from the pressures of his fame in his nightlife. By the time T20 came along and rapidly multiplied with internationals and domestic franchises, Gayle was firmly established in the two longer formats. When West Indies played their first T20I in 2006, he already had seven Test hundreds (one the first of his two triples, another a double) and 11 in ODIs. He soon found that the shortest format was even more suited to his stand-and-deliver method.

Garry Sobers admitted that if he went early to bed, he would toss and turn "thinking of Trueman or Statham" © PA Photos

After his England pyrotechnics, his 46 T20Is were peppered with 98 sixes and 127 fours; his strike rate was 145.64. His 17 against England raised his number of sixes to 637 in 240 T20 matches overall.

Gayle indulges in none of the scoops, ramps and reverse sweeps the version has created. He basically opens his stance and thumps the ball with his immense body strength, mostly down the ground or over midwicket. He enters today's match against Sri Lanka in Bangalore with 98 sixes in 46 internationals.

As popular as his power-hitting has made him, particularly in the IPL, his frivolous, ill-timed comments on TV broadcasts and the braggadocio following the best of his performances lose him credit. "The world is watching, so the universe boss got to deliver and he did. The Gayle force got the better of England today," he said after his hundred in Mumbai. "Superstar", "The Dominator", and "Mr Cool" are other titles he assigns to himself.

His "don't blush, baby" comment after inviting female interviewer Mel McLaughlin out for a drink on air, following a Big Bash League match in Hobart in January generated a firestorm of criticism.

It was not the sort of thing Sobers was ever guilty of; his only similarities with Gayle are his left-handedness and his relish for the nightlife. In his time, there were no omnipresent camera phones to record his every move, no internet to spread his Facebook and Instagram images. Certainly Sobers and West Indians from earlier teams kept their revelry to the dressing room; they took success as a matter of course.

Yet Sobers admits that he was a "night owl", as he put it in a recent interview, explaining that if he was early to bed, he would toss and turn "thinking of Trueman or Statham or those types of bowlers running in".

He realised that if he was out late, "people would talk" if he failed. He said he was even initially reluctant to accept the captaincy Frank Worrell passed on to him because others who aspired to the post knew of his reputation. "How could I then put them under curfew?" The answer to the conundrum was obvious - he had to go out the next morning and "produce".

"The later I went out, the better I produced," he said. "I was able to do that without any problems." He, of course, was Sobers; he could do any and everything on a cricket field "without any problems".

I have personal experiences on tour about the veracity of his matter-of-fact assertion. One example would suffice.

Two nights before the Adelaide Test of the 1968-69 series, he joined Dr Rudi Webster, a fellow Barbadian, who had played for Warwickshire in the County Championship and was then practising in Australia, and myself for a night out. We were about to call it quits when Sobers talked us into heading to the Arkaba, a hotel owned by Murray Sargent, a former South Australia player Sobers knew from his time with the state team a few years before.

It must have been 2am when he finally accepted our concerns that the Test was imminent and agreed to head back to the hotel, proclaiming that he felt "good and relaxed" and promising a hundred. He duly delivered, compiling 110 on the first day "without any problems".

Not everyone can do it but, even at 36 in the twilight of his playing days, Gayle is making a pretty decent fist of it.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for over 50 years

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