Is this the last time we will see Chris Gayle in action in international cricket? As Gayle trudged off at the Sheikh Zayed stadium in Abu Dhabi, a nine-ball 15 to his name, one ball after hitting his 1045th six in T20 cricket, it certainly felt that way. He did say after the match that he hoped to get a farewell game at home in Jamaica, but that's left to be seen.*
Gayle dragged Pat Cummins on to his stumps to end a promising opening stand in what was defending champions West Indies' last game at the 2021 Men's T20 World Cup. Their loss to Sri Lanka on November 4 had already ended their slim hopes of progressing to the semi-finals. He walked off, expressionless at first and waving his bat to the crowd, before breaking out into an ear-to-ear grin, and straight into hugs with Andre Russell and Dwayne Bravo after crossing the boundary. He then gave away his gloves to fans in the stands.
When West Indies came out to defend, Gayle's mood and the atmosphere pointed to this being a farewell not least when he rolled his arm over with Australia on the brink of victory. That was a reminder of how Gayle sought to play. Hat on, sunglasses on, he looked like a social cricketer who couldn't wait to get to the pub, but his bowling still had all the guile and competitiveness.
He sought to cramp David Warner, who tried the switch hit. As Warner remonstrated for a wide call, Gayle joked to him about not knowing the rules. He then nearly had Warner stumped down the leg side although Nicholas Pooran failed to collect the ball. Gayle walked all the way up to Warner and touched his pocket, perhaps to suggest the ball might have flicked the pocket on the way to cause the error. With the last ball, he had Mitchell Marsh caught at mid-off and ran towards the departing batter and gave him a bear hug from the back. He walked off with a smile. Gayle came back to finish off the formalities of the game.
Gayle, who turned 42 in September, has been part of a team in this tournament which has felt very much at the end of an era - having won the 2012 and 2016 editions of the tournament with a core of the side still playing in this tournament. Although the captain Kieron Pollard has said he will continue, Bravo has announced his retirement.
Watching on from the commentary box, Ian Bishop and later Daren Sammy - the latter a recent team-mate and captain of Gayle - paid rich tribute to, arguably, the greatest T20 cricketer ever. "Everything points to this being the last time we will see Gayle in West Indies' colours," Bishop said on air. Alongside Bravo, Gayle also walked through a guard of honour given by the Australian team after the game.
Although his returns have dwindled in recent years, Gayle's on-field legacy is unlikely to be dimmed. He has hit nearly three times as many hundreds in the format as the next best (22 to eight), has hit nearly 300 more sixes than anyone else and, with over 14000 runs, has 3000 more than anyone in the format.
And although he never won an IPL title, the league in which he first became the superstar he is now, he has been part of seven title-winning sides across the globe: twice with West Indies, three times in the CPL, once in the Bangladesh Premier League and an Afghanistan Premier League title as well.
The obvious caveat to this is that he has yet to make an official announcement that this is the end, either for West Indies, or from the game altogether. His impending retirement - or not - has been an ongoing narrative over the last couple of years. Two years ago, having hit 72 off 41 balls against India in an ODI, he walked off to congratulations and tributes.
He has since taken a break from the game but then returned.
Post-game both Bravo and Pollard laughed when the question of Gayle's retirement was asked. "He said halfway," Bravo responded. "He halfway retires. He still has some cricket left. I'm not sure what he's decided yet, but yeah."
Not that this stopped David Warner from giving a conventional tribute.
"I think Chris has changed the game for all opening batsmen around the world in all three formats. One, he's got a lot of size on his side, and a lot of power on his side, so he's able to pick up three-pound bats, which we can't, but the way that he came out, from his career, from the get-go, he just put fear in the bowler's minds and he was able to intimidate, and he's had a great career, I respect that immensely, and I'm just proud to watch him and be a part of a team as well, I managed to play with him which was great. Awesome competitor and a great entertainer."
*The article was updated after Chris Gayle's post-match interview.