Gayle's St Kitts special
The blush was unmistakable. Chris Gayle, when asked about his "relationship" with St Kitts, couldn't hide a naughty smile. Gayle had played a first-class match in St Kitts only once before, scoring 78 in two innings, but the questions were obviously pointed references to Natasha Berridge, Gayle's Kittsian girlfriend. Gayle said that he wasn't showing any "favouritism" to the ground but his quickfire 83 definitely made the first day of Test cricket at Warner Park a memorable affair for the locals.
Think Gayle, and you think spontaneity. The ease with which he carries himself, the lilt with which he jives, the calm shouldering of arms, the sudden burst of power, all appear impromptu. Yet, there's a calculated streak that adds to the danger and Gayle admits to a certain level of premeditation. He'd decided to bide his time - in the first eight overs, even loose balls were only tapped or flicked; he'd decided to take the "fight" to the "aggressive Sreesanth" - in the eighth over, with clouds hovering over the ground, he punched a four to long-on and upper-cut, in true Sanath Jayasuriya-style, over point; he wanted to take on Harbhajan Singh - "He was playing his first Test of the series and I tried to put the pressure on him as early as possible" - and soon had the commentators running for cover.
Rahul Dravid recently compared Gayle to Virender Sehwag, for being able to start with an impact. Both can demoralise, make good balls look ordinary and generally leave the whole place in a total mess. But one area where Gayle falls short is with regard to conversion. While Sehwag manages a hundred every other time he gets a fifty (12 hundreds, 11 fifties), Gayle has missed out on a hundred 24 times after crossing 50. Gayle admits it's a concern, as does Lara. "It was another excellent knock by Chris," said Lara, "but I don't know if I'm more disappointed or he is [at the end].
"I think he's played four out of five very good innings and hasn't gone on to get a triple-figure score. That's unfortunate but I suppose when it comes the flood-gates are going to open ... But Chris is improving and personally I would like to see him go on to get big scores. That's the trademark of an opener - you get rid of the new ball, get to 30-40 and then go on to get a big score."
It's been more than a year since Gayle's reached a three-figure score - in May last year he amassed a monumental 317 against South Africa. Gayle knows it's a problem. "I'm very disappointed with not being able to get the big scores. It's been a while since I have a Test century and I really work hard to achieve it. I'm a strong guy and next innings or next game I can achieve it. You never know. One of the things that's worked is that I've tried to be more consistent with my batting. I try to aggressive at the start of my innings, whenever I'm aggressive I'm in control of the game more."
Gayle and Daren Ganga might sound like a duo specialising in fusion music, but Lara pointed out their effectiveness by pulling out a telling stat. "I don't know if you guys heard, but Chris and Daren has a partnership of 43, compared to Desmond and Gordon who average 47." Of course, these two have walked out to open in only 31 innings - compared to the 148 that the legendary Greenidge and Haynes managed - but the start's been promising.
"Myself and Daren talked a lot and tried to utilise the wicket," said Gayle of their collaboration. "The first hour was very important and we tried not to lose a wicket as much as possible and communicate well between the wickets as well ... Daren and I are very close, good friends off the field as well. We really communicate and share a joke with each other while batting out there. He always tells me to look to drop the ball and run. If I have a problem with a bowler, we communicate that as well and he tries to take more strike. And I might do it as well."
Going by today's evidence, Ganga had slightly more problems - facing 105 balls compared to Gayle's 127. Yet, one wonders what strike rotation Gayle was talking about. Having got 19 singles, one double and 13 boundaries, he didn't need to. He was in St Kitts, remember.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo