Junior Bennett, who coached Jamaica to five straight regional first-class titles without any experience of having played first-class cricket himself, loves to tell a story of Chris Gayle's evolution as a batsman. Back when Gayle hadn't yet made it, most people in Kingston would turn up, Bennett says, just to watch one shot. When the ball would be short of a length, even higher than the hip, Gayle would go back, get tall and punch it "down the road".
Now Gayle hardly plays that shot. Bennett has also spent time with Jamaica Tallawahs, once upon a time Gayle's Caribbean Premier League team. In the nets Gayle sometimes still plays that shot, looks straight at Bennett, and says: "I still have it, coach."
Yet Gayle knows the shot gets you only one or two runs in limited-overs cricket once the field spreads out. And Gayle was the first one to actually teach us that the first casualty of Twenty20 cricket was the importance of the single. So now when you pitch short of a length to Gayle, you will find he has his front leg out of the way and, depending on the width available, he either slogs over midwicket or goes over extra cover.
Gayle is the biggest visionary, and revolutionary, of the T20 era. He turned chaotic hitting into a science, converting slow risk-free starts into big hundreds, picking his targets within the opposition ruthlessly. His batting laughs at commentators who say taking a single just after hitting a six is "intelligent". For if he had batted "intelligently", he wouldn't have registered a six every nine balls. He has hit 10 sixes or more in an innings on 16 occasions, which is eight times the next men on the list. He has 21 T20 centuries, three times the next best. He has hit 100 more IPL sixes than anybody else.
Off the field Gayle has led the freelance revolution. He was among the first to risk the traditional international career in order to keep playing T20 cricket for different franchises. Mind that the national and regional boards could still make or break careers. Gayle took them on. He honed his T20 game so much no league could afford to not have him.
Sometimes lack of self-awareness brings great revolutionaries down, but Gayle is probably the most self-aware T20 batsman. He has reinvented himself again and again. He was supposed to be done in 2011 when he was at loggerheads with his own board and when no IPL team bid for him. He came in as an injury replacement and changed the landscape of IPL. Last year you thought he was done for good. The back, the knee, the low scores. Even Royal Challengers Bangalore - how much Virat Kohli loved him - gave up on him at this year's auction. No team asked for him on the first day of the auction.
Yet here he is, seven years since the IPL first rejected him, consigning the best T20 bowler right now to his worst figures, helping his side score 190 against a team that had conceded 150 in only one of their last seven games. Virender Sehwag, another visionary who revolutionised Test opening, has indeed saved the IPL, as Gayle joked during the post-match presentation. The Kings XI Punjab mentor first bought Gayle at the reserve price, then asked him to spend as much time as he could with a yoga guru and a masseur. Two guys who make a smaller deal of their genius you will struggle to find.
Even in his latest century, Gayle displayed evolution and revolution. Time waits for no one, he admitted later. He realises he can't probably make those dramatic accelerations after slow starts, so he is taking more risks at the start. In his previous match, the first ball he faced was from his nemesis, Harbhajan Singh. Gayle of old would have tried to see him off, bide his time and then take off. Here he hit the first ball for four. In the IPLs after that 2011 comeback, Gayle's Powerplay strike rate has ranged between 6.72 and 9.2. This year he has been going at two runs a ball in the Powerplay, taking those risks early.
The dot-ball count is coming down too; this innings featured the least dot balls he has faced in an IPL hundred, third-lowest in all his T20 centuries. Part of bringing that count down was Gayle running four twos, another thing he is not usually known for. "I did some running today," he said with a laugh in a post-match interview with the IPL website. "It's a big outfield and you can't hit every ball for six, hopefully tomorrow the body will actually feel a bit better [than just after the game], so much running... I thought it was going to be a bit difficult. But at the same time it was calculated, that innings, that kind of play, that's how I do it. You got to run sometimes, eh? Can't walk all your life! I'm happy, everything was calculated well, and I got a hundred." At the twilight of his career, Gayle is becoming more efficient in the traditional sense of the word.
"[Rashid] is a key bowler, he has been bowling phenomenally well in this IPL, but I just wanted to put him under a bit of pressure, let him know the Universe Boss is here" Chris Gayle
He might talk of himself in third person, but Gayle the batsman has the humility to acknowledge he needs to find ways to keep scoring the big runs or there will be no place for him in the freelance world. And, in scoring this hundred, Gayle might have once again shown the world the way.
Rashid Khan is a bowler so good his four overs are almost a write-off. You take a run a ball off him without giving him a wicket, and you consider yourself successful. Against him, Gayle scored 24 off four successive balls. Play him like an offspinner, was the message. Go over the leg side only if he bowls a bad ball - half-volley, full toss or a long hop. It might not always come off, but this could be the answer against Rashid. And, Gayle said, it showed him who's boss: "He is a key bowler, he has been bowling phenomenally well in this IPL, but I just wanted to put him under a bit of pressure, let him know the Universe Boss is here. Just one of those things, let bowlers know who's in charge."
There is another story that Junior Bennett likes to tell. After a training session during an Under-19 tournament in Trinidad, Gayle told Bennett, "Coachman, I have 35 centuries now." He had been counting from elementary school, primary school, even backyard cricket. "Every level of cricket I play, I score a hundred," Gayle said. These were the words Bennett remembered when Gayle kickstarted the inaugural World T20 with the first T20I hundred of all. His 21st has come on a day that a new format - the English H100 - has been announced.
There is a new level, Chris. Lead us into it before you go. We are not betting against you getting the first hundred in H100.