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Can Chris Gayle break out of the funk and reach the end goal of a third world title?

He has struggled at No.3 on his return to the WI side but Bravo argues there's more to Gayle than just runs

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Chris Gayle has managed only 102 runs in nine innings against Sri Lanka, South Africa and Australia this year  •  AFP

Chris Gayle has managed only 102 runs in nine innings against Sri Lanka, South Africa and Australia this year  •  AFP

Chris Gayle's T20 career numbers remain mind-boggling: 13,971 runs at 37.55 and a strike-rate of 146.06. He is 3000 runs ahead of his nearest challenger, his West Indies team-mate Kieron Pollard.
When he was recalled to the West Indies squad earlier this year after a gap of two years for the series against Sri Lanka, he said he wanted to add a third world title to his list of achievements. He was also happy to take any role the team asked of him. That has been batting at No. 3.
However, the comeback has been a struggle. The questions are coming as to whether he has the steam to reach that end goal and if West Indies are digging themselves a hole - notwithstanding they are 2-0 up in the current series against Australia.
There were promising signs in the first match against South Africa when he clubbed 32 off 24 balls in a handsome run chase. But his dismissal for a scratchy 13 off 16 balls against Australia on Saturday saw his T20I average dip below 30 for the first time since just his third match way back in 2007.
That is part of a steady decline. In the nine matches so far against Sri Lanka, South Africa and Australia that unbeaten 32 is his best effort. The tally is 102 runs in nine innings.
Teams have bowled well to him. Josh Hazlewood offered nothing when he sent down a maiden in the first match in St Lucia and a tight line from Mitchell Marsh resulted in a bottom edge in the second. Against Sri Lanka he was troubled by spin. Facing South Africa he had a working over from Kagiso Rabada.
But, internationally at least, it goes much further back. The runs had dried to a trickle in T20I cricket before his absence from the team. In 16 innings since the last T20 World Cup he has 210 runs at 14.00 and a strike-rate of 102.43.
Still, Dwayne Bravo, another of the veteran core of this West Indies side, argues there is more to Gayle than just the runs.
"In the last four years he has been the Gayle we are accustomed to but as an individual we are happy to have him in the group," he told the host broadcaster after the second game against Australia. "We don't judge him by his performances now, Chris' presence alone sends a fear factor to the opposition and brings a certain level of calmness to our dressing room.
"There's a lot of outside pressure because of the age factor but there's no pressure in the dressing room. We appreciate what's done for West Indies cricket, he's a legend, and this last few months with him let's enjoy it and push him through this last phase of his career. He's trying his best to be conservative, not playing his flamboyance game, but we aren't worried about his scores."
That would appear to be an acknowledgement that the team might have to carry Gayle to finishing line - whenever that is. It also suggests he is deliberately playing within himself, or at least to a certain game plan. At the height of his powers Gayle could soak up a significant number of dot balls but would often render those redundant with a cavalcade of boundaries. Maybe it's worth not overthinking it and throwing off the handbrake for a final time.
The recall did not come out of nowhere. It was on the back of strong returns in franchise leagues. In the 2019 and 2020 IPL, he had a combined output of 778 runs at 40.94, striking at 147, including two scores of 99. It was his consistent performances at No. 3 in the 2020 event that played a part in the position he now has for West Indies.
His last innings before returning for West Indies in March was 68 off 40 balls in the PSL. In 2019 he hit a 62-ball 116 in the CPL - the last of his 22 T20 hundreds. In the most recent IPL there were glimpses of what he could still do, before the tournament was suspended, with three scores in the 40s.
"That's where my heart is. I'm never going to turn down anything pertaining to West Indies cricket at this particular time," Gayle said ahead of the Sri Lanka series. "So I came back…to be a part of the set-up leading into the World Cup so we can have unity within the group, and then hopefully we can win this T20 trophy.
"At 41, that's what actually gets me through on a daily basis: it's more mental than physical to me. It's the willpower of the mind. The mind still wants to be out there and be out there on the park, still executing from a batting point of view and still having fun. That's what gives me that extra drive to continue playing. If the mind stops operating like that for me, then I'd have to ask myself a big question there, but for now, it's the mindset."
Gayle has done things with the bat to make the jaw drop. It would not feel fitting for it to finish with a series of inside edges and mistimed shots. Don't rule out a final flourish but this could be a challenge too far, even for one of the greatest.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo