I said a week ago, of Sachin Tendulkar, that perhaps a ton in Twenty20 was the most difficult feat of all but then comes along Chris Gayle and hits 175 off 66 balls and makes it look so simple you wonder why it does not happen more often.
This monstrous innings — I’ll repeat the figures since you may still be wondering if they are accurate — of 13 fours and 17 sixes with a strike rate of 265.15 and a century in roughly half the number of balls Viv Richards required for his record Test hundred in 56 balls, the finest innings I ever saw — was another tick to the belief that 6ft 5in Gayle must be the finest tall batsman of all time.
He is also the coolest guy on the planet; the epitome of the casual man; the complete opposite of such harum-scarum cricketers as the old time West Indies fast bowler and big hitter Learie Constantine and the modern South African batsman-fielder Jonty Rhodes.
It is best seen in his off-spin bowling when you think that his two stride stroll-up may never carry him as far as the bowling crease and when you wonder if the ball will have the strength to travel the length of the pitch. He is only 33 and young enough to return to my country a couple of times more.
I relish the prospect even if it means that Broad, Bresnan, James Anderson, Swann and Panesar are already hiding behind their settees lest he set about them first. Who would blame them; in full flow he is a terrifying prospect. (I have not had the pleasure of watching Gayle dance but I hear that it is a sight to behold; laid-back is too vibrant a description of a performance designed to make his fellow Jamaican Usain Bolt wild with envy.)
We are, however, not here to discuss Gayle’s slow-slow life but that earthquake contained in his time at the crease. He is just as capable of scoring a four-hour century as a fifty ball hundred and clearly not just a slogger but a technically proficient opening bat that any side would be pleased to have at the top of its order.
Most great batsmen — Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Don Bradman, Sunil Gavaskar, for instance — are small. Cricket developed its measurements 200 years ago when the ordinary male human was much smaller than the modern, well-fed, highly trained sportsman so the shorter 21st century batsman is ideally fitted to the 22ft pitch, the five and three-quarter ounce ball and stumps that do not reach his waist.
Gayle, reaching for the sky, relies not on ancient measures but on the leverage he gets from his height, although that alone does not make him the greatest of all the T20 stars. He is also flexible of wrist, quick on his feet and in his judgement and on back foot or front, powerful beyond ordinary belief.
He is also lucky, as we have noted before, in his name. “Gayle force” slips easily off the tongue of the TV commentator or the sub-editor and so he is remembered not only by the man buying his ticket but by the sponsor and the advertising agent. His name will also spread the game so that even England — the slowest to take-up T20 leagues — might one day join the rush to provide the fans with what they want.
Who can resist the pleasure of watching a Gayle smite the ball into the far reaches of any ground? Not I, a more fervent fan of whirlwind cricket than ever since the big Gayle turned into a tornado.