England got away lightly during the recent limited-overs series in the Caribbean. In five innings, Gayle accumulated 108 runs. Then again, all eight of his hundreds in the shorter form have come away from home, so it will be surprising if his scorching drives did not illuminate part of the forthcoming NatWest Series.
His influence would not end there. For Gayle, 24, has risen without trace to overtake Andrew Flintoff as the leading one-day allrounder in the world according to the PwC rankings. One-day cricket is still sneered upon in certain quarters as an inferior form of the game. This explains why Gayle, who briefly topped the PwC batting chart in April, is yet to receive due recognition. The idea that he is somehow a modern-day Kris Srikkanth whose ploy amounts to hit out or get out is popular, but wrong. He is better than that.
While Gayle's strike rate of 78.94 runs per hundred balls is more hare than tortoise, it is well behind those of, say, Marcus Trescothick (86.77) or Adam Gilchrist (94.27). Srikkanth's mark, by the way, is surprisingly low at 71.73, which says much for the evolution of the game.
His path has not been smooth. Mike Findlay, a former chairman of selectors, once spoke of an "attitudinal problem," and the impression remains of a brooding, uncommunicative figure. Gayle has discovered that reputations acquired in days can take years to shrug off.
Following a moderate tour of England in 2000 he was omitted from the Champions Trophy squad and sent instead to the Academy in Adelaide. Some felt there was a punitive element behind the decision and that younger players on the England trip had shown less than full respect to their seniors.
Then, in April last year, he found himself omitted from the first two Tests of the home series against Australia having opted to play alongside Carl Hooper in a lucrative, international double-wicket competition in St Lucia instead of representing Jamaica in a domestic game.
He has denied saying early in his career that he was a better batsman than Garry Sobers, and has tended to respond to accusations of surliness with something along the lines of: "Ask the team who makes them laugh." He is recognised as one of the clowns of the side, but not on the pitch or in the nets.
The lot of the tall West Indian left-hander is to be compared to Clive Lloyd. Gayle does not have the same stoop or athleticism in the field. But he does have the power of shot, and the similarity carries extra credence after it was endorsed by Viv Richards.
Another former Test player, Roger Harper, played a crucial role in his development. It was Harper, as coach, who encouraged Gayle to believe that he could take a few calculated risks in the first 15 overs and then concentrate on collecting the ones and twos. The next challenge is to become as influential in Test cricket.
Here, impetuosity has been a downfall. His hundred against Bangladesh a few weeks ago, however, suggests he is learning. It spanned more than five hours and helped to spare his side from defeat. This, after a 79-ball hundred against South Africa at Cape Town in January, the ninth quickest in Test cricket. The mature Gayle blows anything from light breeze to hurricane.
This article was first published in the July issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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