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Chris Gayle is alive and great

Chris Gayle celebrates his double-century Getty Images

Like Schrodinger's cat, West Indies cricket is either alive or dead depending on exactly when you lift the lid of the box and take a look. If it happened almost any time since their benighted tour of India then the answer has been clear, and negative. Not any more though, and at the head of their latest resurrection is the coolest cat of all, Christopher Henry Gayle, a man who seemed to have used up all of his nine lives a long, long time ago.

Asked yesterday what had changed, which switch he had flicked to turn himself from the scratchy simulacrum of a once-great player back into the awesome Gayle Force of 215 from 147 deliveries, he gave the immortal answer: "Cut down on the parties".

He now holds a unique, almost unthinkable triptych: Test match triple-century (two in fact), ODI double-hundred, T20I ton - and you can throw in T20 cricket's all-time highest score too.

It's a record that demands reappraisal of his place in the game. Perhaps only Lara's first-class quintuple century and Test match 400 stand above it as feats of sustained scoring.

Gayle, unlike Lara, is not conventionally great. In fact he is hardly conventional at all. Technically, tactically, conceptually, he has been a shaping force, an avatar of cricket's coming age. It's time to consider him in that light.

There was a time, during Gayle's dominant years in the IPL when he looked like he had been dropped into the crease via time machine: a glistening metallic helmet, mirrored reflector shades and satin headscarf; the shimmering uniform of gold patches and sponsors' logos stretched over a Terminator's physique; in his hands a bat designed for cleaving and carving through hoards and legions; million upon million tuned in on TVs and smartphones and laptops to watch him.

Here, you thought, was the player of the future, here is how the game will look.

"Gayle, unlike Lara, is not conventionally great. In fact he is hardly conventional at all. Technically, tactically, conceptually, he has been a shaping force, an avatar of cricket's coming age. It's time to consider him in that light"

Gayle batted like it too. You will be hard-pushed to find any media outlet where he has spoken openly about his mindset and his methods, but there is a deep sporting intelligence behind his approach to T20 cricket. What seemed superficially to be berserk and uncontrolled feats of hitting were in fact reasoned, mathematical assaults that loaded the bases in his favour as far as anyone could. Risk was first eliminated - his 128 not out from 62 deliveries for Royal Challengers Bangalore against Delhi Daredevils in 2012, for example, saw him score 1 from his first eight deliveries and with 10 runs from the first 17 - and then embraced. Gayle hits one in every nine balls he faces in T20 cricket for six.

It would be fascinating to hear him talk about it, but Gayle is deeply enigmatic. He understands that mystery simply adds to his appeal, and so his Twitter stream is an endless flow of emoticons and laconic humour. The "World Boss" lifestyle that he likes to project is carefully cultivated. He tweets pictures of himself smoking cigars and surrounded by women; he is assiduous in the promotion of his Triple Century sports bar, a new outpost, you imagine, of the Playboy Mansion with "Henry" as its 21st-century Hef.

The persona can be funny, sure, but Gayle uses its capacity to infuriate, too. On the pitch he has been a white-ball Bradman, reinventing the possible. Off it, he has been equally revolutionary, the first truly freelance player. His earning capacity has undone the ties to international cricket, and it has come at a time of fracture in West Indies. It is a new kind of relationship, and again Gayle is ahead of the curve in having it.

His moods can seem capricious, but that is another by-product of his implacable persona. No one watching his Gangnam dance after the World T20 win could doubt his joy. Similarly, it's hard to ignore the whiff of revenge about this week's 215, given his discontent over the non-selection of Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo for the World Cup and the idiotic retweeting of Whycliffe "Dave" Cameron.

He can sometimes seem out of love with the game itself, but as he hinted in his post-match interview, injury has taken its toll. Such brutal power comes with a physical cost. The quick single he took to raise his fifty against Zimbabwe was the sprightliest he has looked in some years.

As with most things about Cool Chris, he leaves us to fill in the gaps. Will he smash South Africa and spearhead the least likely World Cup win since 1983? Will he make a 30-ball duck? Will he spend the rest of his life in a Jacuzzi?

Your guess is as good as mine, and probably as good as his too. But whatever happens next, Gayle has played some transcendent innings during which he has suggested a future that is almost here. He has been great.