Gayle can still make a big impression on the biggest stage
‘Universe Boss’ has real appeall, even at the age of 39.
It is nigh-on impossible not to be magnetically drawn to Chris Gayle when the swashbuckling Jamaican is effortlessly dispatching bowlers beyond the boundary rope.
The joints creak more than ever under the bulk of an increasingly muscular physique and his fielding – never his strongest suit – verges on the comical these days.
It is also true that his minimal footwork and ‘see ball, hit ball’ approach means he lacks the 360-degree inventiveness that the likes of AB De Villiers and Jos Buttler have mastered to equally devastating effect.
But for all his foibles, and there have been one or two unedifying incidents through the years, the 39-year-old West Indian remains a stand out presence even in this era of unprecedented batting brutality.
Superb hand-eye coordination, impeccable timing and freakish power combine with an ice-cool demeanour and no lack of self-belief, which has cowed pacemen and spinners alike over the course of the left-hander’s 20-year career.
Fielders, especially at deep square leg, deep midwicket and deep cover, can sometimes be reduced to watching briefs when the self-styled Universe Boss is truly in the mood.
Gayle’s place among the all-time greats of limited-overs batsmen is therefore already assured and his exploits have unquestionably emboldened the next generation of big-hitters.
Not that his legacy will be confined merely to a white-ball master blaster as an average in excess of 40 after 103 Tests – in which he recorded two triple hundreds – indicates.
But his Test days are in the rear view mirror while he may bow out of one-day internationals after the forthcoming World Cup in England and Wales, leaving him free to dedicate the embers of his career to his beloved Twenty20s.
It is a format that is tailor-made to his strengths and one he has prioritised for much of the last decade, where he has often operated as a gun-for-hire in the world’s most lucrative domestic franchise leagues.
His globetrotting adventures have seen him become the only batsman to surpass 10,000 runs in the sprint format while his 21 centuries are three times as many as his closest challenger.
Yet his devotion to T20 has not yet become all encompassing, as England found to their cost earlier this year during a highly-entertaining ODI series draw.
Eoin Morgan’s tourists had brushed aside the West Indies in 2017 and, having risen to become the top-ranked side in the world in the interim, were not expected to be pushed to their limits.
The batting of Gayle bridged the gap significantly. His two centuries came in losing causes though a jaw-dropping 77 from 27 deliveries in the decider blew England away.
His 424 runs across four innings – Morgan was the next best with 256 – helped the former Windies captain become only the 14th batsman to go beyond the 10,000-landmark in ODIs.
A place on the all-time top 10 list will almost certainly elude him although overhauling Brian Lara’s 10,405 runs to become the top West Indian could prove alluring for Gayle, who is just 254 behind.
He would have already surpassed the Trinidadian already had it not been for the stand-offs with the Windies hierarchies through the years that led to him missing a number of series.
But it is readily accepted that Gayle, who was widely condemned for propositioning Australian sports presenter Mel McLaughlin on air in January 2016, remains a world-class performer, even in his twilight years.
With a record-breaking 517 sixes in international cricket, expect that number to swell in the next few weeks.
Appointed vice-captain to Jason Holder, Gayle’s valedictory World Cup appearance is unlikely to end with a whimper and his presence at the top of the order means the Windies cannot be written off.