PEOPLE Chris Gayle may be freelancing across T20 leagues in the world, but the Jamaican who has endeared himself to Bangaloreans is whom all hopes are pinned on for the RCB in the upcoming Champions League T20
I n a warm-up game Royal Challengers Bangalore played at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium earlier this week, one of the umpires intervened, or so the story goes, after the ball had been hit out of the ground a couple of times by the same batsman. “Try to keep it in,” Chris Gayle is believed to have been told, only for him to offer an “I'll try” and nearly hit it out again. If Gayle's 32-ball 75 on Monday is to be treated as any sort of omen, RCB is in for a corker of a Champions League T20 campaign.
The evening before that game, however, was spent in front of the TV, watching a seemingly beloved Manchester United dismantle Chelsea. “Goallllllllllllllllllllllll. How about that for a goal! Remind me in my young days playing! Lol,” Gayle wrote on micro-blogging site Twitter, as Nani's long-distance effort went in. The excitement, evidently, grew a fair bit when Wayne Rooney netted United's third minutes later: “Gogogogogogogogalllllllllllllllllllllll!! ba heba ba hebe!!! Goaaaaaaaaaaaal!”
“Definitely, I'm a United fan,” Gayle grins broadly. “It was brilliant to watch. Hopefully they carry on but I've got my part to play here in India.” And a significant part, if the IPL is anything to go by. Earlier this year, the Jamaican arrived five games into the tournament, as replacement for an injured Dirk Nannes, and dragged a hitherto unremarkable RCB to the brink of the title.
Although he had had some success in previous editions, the fourth season of the IPL, when he finished man-of-the-tournament, was new territory. “I think it was a situation where I came of age,” Gayle says. “I've been around such a long time, with the experience of the IPL before, but at the same time it was with a different team. I got involved with a different atmosphere…. it's something that I capitalised on. I came in, was unpredictable, and eventually got a start. From there on, things kind of went well.”
But the environment, Gayle admits, had much to do with his success as well. “I got a very good reception here on the first day itself. It was spot on; I'm in my comfort zone here. It reflected in my cricket, and I got some good scores for them. The only disappointment was that I could not perform as I would have liked in the final, and we could not end up as champions.”
If any disappointment lingered among RCB fans over the team's failure to retain Ross Taylor in last year's auction, it was quickly forgotten. Gayle has endeared himself to the crowds in remarkable fashion. “I just try to clown around with the fans a bit,” he says. “I enjoy interacting with them, and they too give me a good response. I like to entertain them and overall, my experience in India has been brilliant.”
Gayle's run-ins with the West Indies Cricket Board, however, have meant that he has not played international cricket since the World Cup. “Yeah, it's disappointing not to be on the international scene, but that's life and you have to face and deal with reality,” he says. “It definitely hurts. You don't want to sit around looking at the TV watching cricket or being at the ground watching cricket and not be a part of it when you know your capabilities.” His last Test match was in December, in a series where he scored a career-best 333 at Galle. The 32-year-old now plays in T20 leagues in India and Australia, and has recently signed with the Nashua Dolphins in South Africa, becoming what can perhaps be called a freelancer, or as has been put rather uncharitably, a mercenary. “It was hurting to see people questioning my commitment to West Indies cricket but I guess you need to tackle such things in life,” he says. “There were a lot of unwanted comments about me at that time but I can't let my mind wander to those issues as I need to concentrate on whatever cricket I have been playing and need to enjoy it. Till the entire episode has been cleared, I have to play for teams that need my services and wait for my turn to play for the West Indies.”