September 16, 2006
by Aparajith Ramnath
When India’s first match of the DLF Cup tri-series in Kuala Lumpur was called off after a downpour, resulting in a West Indian win on the Duckworth-Lewis system, a lot of people would have been muttering under their breath about the rain. But perhaps a few would have stopped to take note of the contribution of a gangly opener named Chris Gayle, who had struck 45 off just 35 balls, spanking nine fours along the way. His innings got the Windies “off to a flier” and had the Indian fielders scurrying all over the place.
Gayle has long been the headline-writer’s delight (how many times have reports been titled along the lines of “Gayle blows away Indian bowling”?), but he is certainly not a purist’s delight. His stance can be described as ungainly, standing as he does with his front foot facing mid on and his back foot the bowler; and when he stands up and thwacks it around, one is put in mind of a table tennis stroke.
What Gayle does have is cartloads of talent and an exceptional eye. Not for this man the getting-on-the-front-foot, transferring-weight, bending-to-get-the-head-over-the-ball formula; not for him either the well-timed fluid drive past the bowler. His bat finds ever-newer arcs to swing along – but it always swings. The aforementioned exceptional eye means that the position of his feet matters little – indeed, he can hardly be said to be a leading exponent of the art of moving one’s feet – and his height means that he can get under balls that would be an awkward length for another batsman, and simply swat them over the boundary.
His play is not aesthetic, but it is spectacular. What is more, it is effective. He is not alone in this: today’s game has more and more batsmen who have evolved their own techniques to suit the requirements of a cricketing horizon crowded with one-day internationals, and, increasingly, Twenty-Twenty games. It has long been felt that modern-day cricket is a batsman’s game. Batsmen like Gayle make the challenge for bowlers even greater.