THE THING with Chris Gayle is that every bowler knows where he should bowl to the Jamaican. More importantly, he also knows where not to bowl at him. It’s like Gayle lays landmines in his hitting arc, and waits for a ball to stray on to one. Then, boom! And over the last dozen years or so, there have been more bowlers who have been eviscerated even if they had spotted the ‘no trespassing’ board. We now have 10,000 T20 runs as proof. (Results | Fixtures | Points Table)
Gayle’s a reductive art of batsmanship. His entire game is based on that wide stance: he crouches a touch on bent knees to get the centre of gravity down and stays still. Pretty still. As the bowler releases the ball, he uncoils into action. With his wide stance, he doesn’t have to move too far forward or back. The theory with this technique is quite simple. All you need to do, if your intention is to play off the front foot, is to just lean forward, or perhaps take a short step at best. All very minimalistic.
There are many hitters with innovative cute shots — those switch-hits, dil-scoops, reverse-sweeps and all that jazz. Not Gayle. At a time when batsmen have become moving targets, he still remains a stationary hit-man, a sniper who’s announced his location. He still guns you down. Some hitters like to move around the stumps to manufacture lines. Not Gayle. He hardly leaves the crease for any down-the-track charges.
He rarely hoicks across the line even. All that running-around the crease and strange shots is for the men who want to perspire for runs. Not for the uber-cool Gayle. He just loves to stand and hit. Not for nothing is he called Crampy. In his biography, Six Machine, Gayle describes the origin of that nickname. The description also sums up his batting style in many ways. He attributes the nickmane to a former school teacher, Paul McCallum, who turned him an opener and once pulled him up after a run-out and referred to him as Crampy.
“Crampy means slow, crampy means laid back, crampy means skinny. And so a nickname is born, but don’t be fooled. My commitment is total. I just don’t like running,” he writes. Instead, Gayle stands balanced in his wide stance hits the bowler through the line. Sometimes it goes over midwicket, and occasionally over wide cover, but mostly he threads the arc between long-on to long-leg.
The wide stance does create problem for him on tracks where the ball seams from a length. Then he can’t reach the pitch of the ball and does get squared-up a lot. Just on the basis of the pace at which he bowls at, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar should be the ideal candidate to be at Gayle’s mercy. Instead, the UP swing exponent has always had the wood on him. The main reason being the lengths he bowls at Gayle, and his simple strategy of swinging the ball away from the left-hander.
Ditto on the turners. When the ball loops and dips in on a length, he can get into an ungainly positions. The wide stance can lock him up on those tracks, making it difficult to move back or forward according to the demands of the ball. Take his innings against Mumbai Indians last week on a sluggish Chinnaswamy Stadium wicket. Rohit Sharma didn’t mind letting Harbhajan Singh finish his quota within the first 9 overs since that meant Gayle was kept quiet. And he looked all sorts against the veteran off-spinner, repeatedly getting stuck in awkward positions against the turning ball. Of the 16 balls he faced from Harbhajan, 11 were dots and there was a fortituous six where a mishit barely carried over the long-off fielder. It was if anything an unlike-Gayle six.
But T20 tracks are more often than not batsmen-friendly, and Gayle can afford to scythe through the line. And he is a smart batsman who is extremely aware of his strengths and weaknesses. In a format, where the batsman’s patience is generally wearing thin, the highest run-getter in T20 history even here prefers to play for time. But when you’re Chris Gayle, you always have time.