Brian Lara interrupted Dean Jones’s lazy musing about Chris Gayle. Jones is usually an insightful analyst but slipped in a trope about Gayle’s batting that night in the IPL studio: how Gayle would come and just throw his bat around. Do what he does.
We have all heard that perception before and many of us carry it in our heads too. This is when Lara coughed up. “No, he thinks about the game more than people think. In fact, he has a very good method. He picks his bowlers from the opposition, areas to hit, shots he is comfortable with, and doesn’t slog.”
Words to that effect. Lara is right for one can’t have the amazing record that Gayle has by just turning up at a ground for some hit and swagger. But the question is why do we carry that notion in our heads? Because it’s Gayle who has himself carefully and deliberately planted that thought.
At times it seems, Gayle isn’t a human but an emoji — of utter deliriousness, of a man punch-drunk on life. Go through his Twitter feed or press conferences or Instagram or wherever he is creating havoc — the image he wants the world to see is of a pirate attacker who loves life, loves hitting balls for sixes, and anoints himself with amusing monikers. That man isn’t going to turn out to be Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
From the outside, Gayle seems like a bundle of contradictions though obviously he won’t see it that way. He is certainly the Bradman of limited-overs cricket but averages over 40 in Test cricket too. But he is the man who said he won’t be crying if Test cricket dies. He is the man who has had a sexist episode with a lady journalist in Australia, says “don’t blush, baby” and then a few months down the line, names his newborn daughter “Blush”. He is the man who tweets that he is about to have sex. He also tweeted a picture of a strip pole and said you can’t call yourself a cricketer if you don’t have a strip pole in your bedroom.
He is also the one who suddenly says in a mundane press conference that he plans to use the millions from the shortlived Sanford league on his brother’s heart surgery. Once in Bangalore, when he learnt that a six had crash-landed on a girl in the crowd, he visited her at the hospital. His life had turned on its head after a hole in his heart led to a surgery during a tour of Australia in 2005; it, he has said, changed his outlook — now he wanted to take it easy, enjoy every moment, be carefree.
Can we then, after all his virtual and real bytes, say he is an extrovert without any lingering doubt? Nope, he doesn’t allow us to nail that too. Richie Richardson, a former West Indian dasher and later a coach of the team, called Gayle “a quiet guy who speaks very few words. Viv Richards had that presence, the booming voice and was an extrovert. Gayle is an introvert, a man of few words. You would hardly hear him speak.”
Gayle was also dismissed as a ‘good family man” in the autobiography of Tino Best, who chronicled how he had bed 650 women and called himself as a ‘Man-whore” in that book. Clearly, Best didn’t buy Gayle’s talks and tweets, and coming from him, ‘good family man’ seemed a dismissive remark.
There is no greater carefree image of a modern-day cricketer than Gayle swinging yet another six. But — and here is where Lara’s insight comes in — he isn’t a Shahid Afridi, the other great six-addict of our times. Watching Afridi was a visceral experience, a thrill that comes from seeing a man launch every bit of himself, every muscle and the soul itself into that heave. It was obvious that we can’t do what he did but Afridi made us feel that we could do it —it was just an extension of our evenings at maidans. Not Gayle, though.
If anything, it was Gayle who was one of the early prototypes of the modern-day big hitter, who developed a careful method to the six-hitting madness that has now become an epidemic. He wasn’t the big tall hitter who came and swung through the line of the ball. His body would twist into position, hold the ‘shape’; he would crouch, getting biomechanics and nerds to write about the positive effect of a low centre of gravity in big hitting; he would have a wide stance, legs spread out, minimising the need for excessive footwork and maximising the chance of knifing through the line; he would clear his front foot but unlike the old days where it would also be accompanied with the head bobbing all over and the body contorting into positions that only the world ‘slog’ seemed apt. With Gayle, the head — more often than not — remained decently still.
He cared about ratings and stuff like that. As early as 2006, he talked about how he was languishing at No. 11 in the ICC batting rankings and wanted to push on to be No. 1. And he worked hard towards it. Along the way, he kept on building his own brand, using social media in his own myth-making until he became what he wanted to be: a man unapologetic about his life, a man in love with his life and sixes.
Those who know him back in Jamaica say much of his personality and fashion choices come from his wife Natasha Berridge, an ex-model and a successful fashion designer. A few months after the controversy in Australia with the journalist, Gayle and Natasha hit the annual carnival at St Kitts, dressed in traditional gear and twerking and ‘daggering’ — a dance form that simulates copulating. Videos circulated, a minor controversy erupted — more in Australia than in the Caribbean.
That is Chris Gayle, in love with life, in love with himself. For the world, he is the greatest Ronin of modern-day cricket, a talented batsman and above all, an entertainer. His former team-mate Lara had asked a question after his farewell game: ‘Did I entertain?’ Gayle doesn’t even have to ask. We know it and he has never let us forget it.