A little rest went a long way for Chris Gayle on Saturday. Gayle took up the option to take a short break before the start of the Limacol Caribbean Premier League on the weekend, and the result was a match-winning innings for his Jamaica Tallawahs in vintage Gayle style-- 111 not out off 63 balls with five fours and 10 sixes against the St Lucia Zouks.
It was the kind of innings he struggled to produce all of last year, but the 34-year-old who admitted to be “still playing with an injury,” got maximum reward for doing nothing.
“I got a break. I was home, didn’t play the last two T20s for West Indies (against New Zealand)...Stayed away from the game of cricket, didn’t even pick up a bat,” he told the media after champions the Tallawahs had powered past the Zouks by seven wickets at the National Cricket Stadium in Grenada.
“Leading up to this game,” he continued, “ I didn’t even have a net session, only one practice game before leaving Jamaica, that’s the only time I actually picked up a bat. But the rest was good.” He said he was aided by a “few Cataflams to ease the (back) pain a bit but I’m sure I’m gonna feel a lot of pain later.” Gayle had said at the tournament launch on Thursday that his injury issues needed to be sorted out if he is to prolong his career.
But the showman in him, the adrenaline that was still flowing through his veins and the pain-killing effect of the Cataflam medication all combined to encourage a stroll across to the party stand, still in full swing despite the match being well over, Grenada get up on a platform crowded with people and join the action, bouncing in rhythm to the soca music.
All afternoon, Gayle had been beating out his own rhythm on the white ball. It kept disappearing to the extremities of the playing area and well beyond. T20 crowds have become used to the sight of Gayle standing and delivering with power that seemed to be generated from a minimum of effort.
On Saturday, especially, the patched up Gayle was not interested in doing too much running. He just put bat to ball. Everywhere. Even into the party stand where they welcomed the white missile with gleeful hands, despite island sentiments generally being with the Zouks, made up largely of players from the Windward Islands.
But Gayle’s hitting has given him hero status on this ground. Back in 2002 against New Zealand before it was rebuilt following hurricane damage, Gayle had punished New Zealand with 204 in a Test match. Memories of that assault may have jogged some memories on Saturday despite the very different context.
But as was the case then, when the big man is out to hit you, the format doesn’t matter. “As a batsman, when you are in that sort of zone, it’s always going to be difficult for bowlers to try and bog you down. You have the game in the palm of your hand, so that’s how I worked it out today.”
When Gayle reached his century with that rarity, a single, he raised his bat above his head with both arms. The heavyweight champion of St George’s was displaying his ”belt.”
“Good bat, good Spartan bat did all of that,” he said later. “But they bowled well. They pegged us down on a few occasions, but the important thing was not to panic. We knew well always could make it up in the end.”
Gayle more than made up. But unlike most around the ground he was not getting carried away. “This is a situation where you don’t want to be too relaxed going into the next game coming off a big win like this. We gotta lift our game a bit more. “
Gayle’s new coach Mickey Arthur, could be excused for being a bit more excited about how the first match in his new job had gone. And how well his captain had played. “It was just incredible,” he said of the knock. “It was so good to be a coach and have Chris on my side rather than be against him because he’s played some innings like that against us. What a fantastic innings,” the former South Africa and Australia coach declared.
Arthur had had the good sense to let Gayle set his own pace in the build-up to the series. It seems the course of wisdom for him to keep stick to that policy.