Sometimes fear originates from real threats, sometimes from imagined ones. In other terms, rational and irrational fear. Very few batsmen in cricket develop that irrational fear in the bowler's mind when they come out to bat. The “universe boss” Chris Gayle is one of them. 14k runs in all T20s with 22 centuries and over 1000 sixes is a testimony of it. The soon to be 42-year-old, clubbed a 38-ball 67 in the third T20I against Australia and became the oldest player (41 years and 294 days) to score a half-century in T20Is among the Test playing nations. When he gets going, as he did against Australia, entertainment is assured.
The big man has scored 1000+ runs in a calendar year nine times, all have been in succession starting from 2011 till 2019, speaks volumes of his achievement. Out of those nine years, he has been the highest run scorer in a calendar year four times. 2011 (1497), 2012 (1532), 2013 (1344) and 2015 (1665). The 1665 runs he scored in the year 2015 is the most a batsmen has scored in a calendar year in T20s. In each of the year Gayle has scored 1000 runs, he has managed to keep an average of over 30. But, only in 2019, he had averaged less (25.8).
However, in recent times is he still “in his prime” is the big question? For most of his career, Gayle has opened the innings. But, of late, he has been batting at number three. This shift in batting positions has hindered his consistency. The numbers have been contrasting when he has batted at number three as compared to opening in the last two years in T20s. In T20Is, the rift has been even bigger. As an opener, Gayle had an average of 32.5 and a strike rate of 142.8. In comparison, he averages 18.8 and strikes at 114.2 in 10 innings at number three.
IS OPENING BETTER SUITED?
Coming back to overall T20s, since 2020, Gayle has played 27 innings at number three. Irrespective of the batting positions, since 2018 in T20s, Gayle’s approach has been to start with caution and fire all cylinders as the innings progresses. Apart from 2020 in which he played 11 T20s, in every other year since 2018, Gayle has had a strike rate of less than 110 in first 10 balls. Overall, Gayle has a strike rate of 106.8 in the first 10 balls. However, in between balls range 11-20, 21-30 and 30+, Gayle has struck at 150+.
But there is a catch. His acceleration has been predominant after the first 10 balls when he has played as an opener as compared to when he has batted at three. In T20s since 2018, Gayle has scored at 155.4 in between 11-30 balls range while batting as an opener. Whereas, when he comes to bat at number three, he has a strike rate of 136.5 in the same range. Majority of his innings since 2020, Gayle has batted at number three.
In the 2020 IPL edition, Gayle batted at number three in all the matches. To be fair, it wasn’t a bad one as he had three scores of 50+ in seven innings and had zero innings of a single digit score. But, in an attempt duplicate his performances at this position, Gayle lost track of consistency in 2021. In 19 innings prior to the third T20I, he had 13 scores of less than 20, five scores between 21 to 49 and one 50+ scores with an average of 22.8 and 52.8 percent of his dismissals came in the first 10 balls.
At the end of the second T20I against Australia, another veteran, Dwayne Bravo remarked on Gayle to the host broadcast “We do not judge him by his performances now. Chris’s presence alone sends a fear factor to the opposition and brings a certain level of calmness to our dressing room”.
Bravo’s words were backed with a powerful match winning performance in the third T20I and the coach Phil Simmons was in praise of Gayle’s performance in the post-match interview with the broadcasters “We’ve seen what he’s been doing in practice, in IPL in the U.A.E where world cup will be played and we thought this was a role he could fill us” he further added “He started badly as it was highlighted, but we know where his heart is and today he showed what we insisted he can do. Nice to see him back in a bit of nick”.
But, Gayle batting at three has more to do with demands of franchise cricket more than anything else. With one eye on the World T20 scheduled to start late October this year, it might help West Indies more if they consider Gayle to bat as an opener whenever he is in the side. In T20s since 2018, Gayle has scored a fifty plus score every 4.7 innings when he bats as an opener as compared to 5.7 at number three.
In the post-match interview of the third T20I, Gayle mentioned “My Main focus is the World Cup '' he also added “Don’t mind the numbers, Chris Gayle not getting runs. You guys should be happy to see Chris Gayle on the field still, hopefully Chris will last as long as possible”.
Unquestionably, Gayle is one of the best entertainers and one amongst the most gruesome hitters. With two T20 World Cups under his name apart from being the leading run-getter in T20s by a mile, Gayle has established himself as the epitome of a T20 batsman. But come the World Cup, his presence in the XI might be on tangible value and not just totemic.