"If Clive Lloyd is the Big Cat, then Chris Gayle is the Cool Cat," a member of the West Indian support staff let on. He was once offered a lift by Gayle, from the team hotel in Kingston to a restaurant close by, and what should have been a five minute trip took close to an hour. Gayle took his own time getting in the car; even longer turning the key in the ignition; fiddled with the stereo getting the music going ... everything just took so much longer, and time seemed to stand still.
And that it does when he bludgeons the ball as he did against South Africa in the second semi-final today at Jaipur. At times it appeared as if Gayle was the only man in the stadium, standing in the middle, bathed in light, blasting the ball to all parts; the fielders did not have to move, it seemed not to matter who was bowling or what sort of ball was bowled: it just had to go, and fast.
"I'm a moody guy, very very moody," Gayle drawled at the end of the match, a big grin plastered across his face. "You see me doing ridiculous things at times. Sometimes I talk to myself a lot and try to motivate myself when I'm too laidback. At other times I just try to relax, cracking a joke to someone out in the field. Rather than standing around and doing nothing I try to do something on the ground. I want to be involved in the game at all times."
But perhaps it's just the way of performers. When you put them on stage and the curtain rises, they're one personality - confident, charming, expressive. And off it they're no different from you and I; relaxed, leading seemingly normal lives. Gayle is a bit like that. On one day he can be the life of the party, garrulous, extroverted, cracking jokes, dancing like a fiend, and on another he can just be seated quietly at the bar, nursing a drink, barely saying a word to anyone. It's much the same with his batting.
For bowlers, the real question to ask is not whether Gayle is in form or not. It's not whether the pitch suits him or not. It's just a question of which Christopher Henry Gayle has turned up to the pitch. On the day it was not the quiet one, blocking or dropping anchor. The very first ball from Shaun Pollock - who was coming off figures of 7-0-20-2 in South Africa's demolition of Pakistan - was flat-batted back past the bowler for a boundary. The next ball was played even better, with total control and a straight bat, and the result was the same.
There was some suggestion that Gayle found Pollock's pace agreeable. If that was the case he certainly didn't mind the extra zip of Makhaya Ntini and Andre Nel. A clip through midwicket off Nel, an audacious slap over midwicket off Nel, and Graeme Smith was forced to pull his best bowlers out of the attack. Smith brought himself on, and with Jacques Kallis, began to restore some order, but Gayle quickly disabused them of such notions, reverse-sweeping Smith to the point fence. The fours came at a steady clip, but it was the sixes that really drove home the point. One each off Pollock and Kallis showed intent, but it was a blow against Robin Peterson, full stride down the pitch, massive heave of the bat, which wasn't even especially well timed yet sailed high over long-on, that signaled it was Gayle's day.
But those who dismiss him as being unpredictable or unreliable should see that it has not merely been his day, it's been his tournament, and his year. Gayle has scored 434 runs in this tournament, with three centuries, and is far and away the topscorer, with a game still to play. When he scored 10 on the day, he'd brought up 1000 runs for the calendar year, at an average of over 40.
Two days before the semi-final, Gayle had chatted to the media after a practice session. "I made some adjustments out in the middle, and it is working for me," he said of his batting and recent success. "There is a lot of difference in my batting now, I am just trying to play straight. When I get a start, I try to capitalise on it and not give it away." And he didn't give it away, unbeaten on 130 as the winning runs were drilled down the ground and West Indies cantered to victory with six wickets and as many overs to spare.
The Australians, who are already in the final, will remember Gayle well. In their encounter earlier in the tournament the normally chilled out Gayle was all keyed up, and some might say it was his constant chirping and encouragement that lifted the team and broke a crucial partnership. Brian Lara thought there might be more in store for the Australians in the big final. And Lara thought Gayle, who has scored heavily all tournament, will want to make a mark in the biggest game of them all. "It's a brand new game," said Lara. "We have requirements of our openers and Chris has fulfilled them in the tournament. I'm almost sure that he doesn't want to leave centre-stage to anyone on the final. He'll be very keen to get out there and replicate what he did today."
Ask Gayle what he'd make of it if he was sitting out watching himself bat, and the answer rolls of with no hesitation. "I don't need to watch myself. I know what I am already - flamboyant," he said. "But one thing I can tell you, if I were to watch myself, it's going to be pretty, definitely. It's got to be pretty." When he bats as he did today, even the opposition, despite the hiding they're receiving, have got to take out a moment and admire Gayle for his strokeplay.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo