There are several unwritten rules when you have Christopher Henry Gayle on board. Don’t expect him to respond kindly to calls for a quick single. Don’t ask him to throw his body to defend the boundary. He would rather wait to bat, for the bowler to allow him to free his arms. In his T20 career, Gayle has hit 1027 boundaries and 983 sixes. That’s an astounding near 1:1 ratio. Thursday showed it’s more likely to happen the longer you allow Gayle to stay at the crease.
Having spent time on the bench and at a hospital (for a stomach bug) and being made available for a mid-season transfer, this wasn’t the best start to an IPL for Gayle. He had to make a point against Royal Challengers Bangalore, a franchise that treated him like a king but didn’t bid for him at the 2018 auctions. Sent at No 3—for only the sixth time in 397 career T20 matches— Gayle bided his time till Washington Sundar served up in his arc. Down came the bat from a massive backlift and the ball thudded into the sight screen. He finished the night with 53 off 45 balls, with five sixes and just one boundary.
This wasn’t the usual fluent knock from Gayle — he hadn’t batted since January — but the point was made. Having got to his half-century, Gayle thumped his digits on the ‘The Boss’ sticker on the back of his bat. And pointed to the number — 333, his score in one of the 103 Tests he has played — on the back. Was he nervous? “Not really nervous. I mean, come on! It’s Universe Boss batting, how can I be nervous?” said the Kings XI Punjab player. But he did demand the respect befitting possibly the greatest T20 batsman of all time. “You get the picture right? All I was saying was ‘put some respect on the name’, that’s all.”
One of the original T20 freelancers with ties to almost 20 franchises, Gayle scored the first international T20 century in 2007, when people were still trying to grasp the format. Gayle has been his own man for a long time now. In 2011, he was exiled from the West Indies team as he and his teammates continued to fight for better pay. Gayle continued doing his thing, scoring big for franchises and making the Caribbean board realise they would be rudderless without him. Peace was made in 2012 and within four years, West Indies had won back-to-back World Twenty20 titles. It tells you why Gayle often refers to himself in the third person.
In Jamaica, Gayle is just ‘The Boss’. To teenagers in Lucas Cricket Club—where Gayle started as a kid—or Rollington Town—a Kingston ghetto where he grew up—he is living embodiment of the theory that the only way to beat poverty is to play professional cricket like him. Be it the gold-plated cars or that palatial mansion Gayle owns atop Chancery Hall that overlooks downtown Jamaica, everything has been financed almost solely by franchise league money.
At 41, Gayle’s body often doesn’t respond well, the eye-hand coordination flunks at times but he can still contribute to a winning cause. Usually poker-faced, Gayle’s high spirits at the post-match awards ceremony—face contorted, flexing muscles — ensured IPL13 would remember the Universe Boss.