CRICKET Chris Gayle's frenzied bat has added firepower to the Royal Challengers Bangalore team, and the crowd at the Chinnaswamy Stadium has embraced a new hero
A fortnight ago, Chris Gayle was merrily tweeting about music, chicken curry and sundry issues while he twiddled his thumbs in Jamaica. A dull World Cup and the selector's cold gaze after the premier event had given enough free time for the sulking former West Indies captain until the Indian Premier League offered a lifeline. The Royal Challengers Bangalore suffered a blow, with Dirk Nannes hobbling out. Soon phone lines were worked and for Gayle, who was surprisingly ignored at the player-auction here in January, it was time to say “I have got mail!”
Gayle was pencilled in as the replacement and the move gifted impetus to the Challengers as a new-look squad under Daniel Vettori rushes towards the final stretch. Gayle has plundered 328 runs in five matches and that too at an incredible strike-rate of 205.00. No wonder, the Challengers, relishing his mayhem atop the order, notched five victories on the trot and are well placed to gain a berth in the final play-offs though things will become clear in the coming days. “It is entertaining to watch him but I am happy that he is playing for my side,” says Vettori.
Last Friday, Bangaloreans fully fathomed Gayle's muscular batting as he blitzed a 107 against a hapless Kings XI Punjab. Gayle flourished after a sedate beginning against the likes of Praveen Kumar. “It was like Test match bowling in the first few overs but after three overs, we dominated,” Gayle says with a touch of understatement.
The post World Cup viewer fatigue was evident over the weekend at the Chinnaswamy Stadium as there was a decline in the stands but even then a stirring was evident among those present as Gayle, the batsman and the bowler, fused a riveting performance with impromptu dances.
In the IPL's earlier seasons, Ross Taylor was the most popular overseas player with the local crowd. Now with Taylor joining Rajasthan Royals, Gayle has gifted excess cheer to those who love their quick-fix in Twenty20 cricket. “I am a moody guy,” Gayle says but the only mood that Bangaloreans have witnessed so far is a slam-six-and-smile routine.
You cannot blame Prasanth Parameswaran, the Kochi Tuskers Kerala bowler, if he files a harassment case against Gayle. On Sunday, Gayle struck 36 runs off the left-arm seamer and the bowler made it worse by bowling a no-ball and the overall expenditure account of 37 from a single over might be a nightmare that will haunt the rookie. “This is Twenty20 and better bowlers have been hit,” says Tuskers captain Mahela Jayawardene while bravely trying to lend strength to Parameswaran's slumped shoulders.
Gayle's destructive bat and his distracting off-spin has obviously powered the Challengers in the past fortnight but others too have delivered. Zaheer Khan has shed the hangover of the World Cup and struck a nice rhythm, left-arm seamer S. Arvind has shown that he belongs at this level and Abhimanyu Mithun too has slowly regained his confidence.
Dilshan, in his last match – against the Tuskers – at last scored valuable runs before boarding the flight to Colombo, and the likes of Kohli and A.B. de Villiers have had their share of success.
Clad in red or in green, like they did against the Tuskers, the Challengers have stayed firm on the success staircase, though, as Vettori would admit, the final steps are the most difficult but if Gayle can motor on, the Challengers would be poised for a giant leap.
And team owner Vijay Mallya might be tempted to take Gayle for another Goan holiday, like he did last week.