April 18th, 2017, Bangalore. Chris Gayle has gone 16 innings without a significant score. It has made the road to 10,000 runs take much longer than it should have. Going into this game, Gayle was on 9997 runs, and wasn’t a certain starter for RCB anymore due to his drastic dip in form. His third run is a dab to third man, and it’s perhaps the most significant single in T20 history. However, no one on the field or in the crowd, not least Gayle himself, seems to realize it.
Gayle’s career has stretched back a long way. He first featured in ODIs way back in 1999, and tests in 2000. His career was mostly stop-start, but it had plenty of high moments. He made 3 hundreds in an ODI series in India, becoming only the third West Indian to score 1000 ODI runs in a calendar year. 2 wins came from those.
It was pivotal as West Indies secured an increasingly scarce ODI series triumph abroad. His 455 runs also secured him the Player of the Series award. A year and a half later, in South Africa, he made two counter-attacking hundreds, one in a high scoring draw, the other in a vain effort to stave off defeat.
At Antigua in 2005, he went big, making 317 to guide West Indies to their third highest innings total ever. At this point, Gayle was only 25, and it seemed like the world was at his feet. However, that would turn out to be his last test hundred for 3 years. In ODIs, as well, he suffered a similar dip in form in 2007.
But that was after his record breaking 2006 in the format, where he made 3 hundreds, all in the 2006 Champions Trophy, where he made 474 runs and was awarded player of the tournament as West Indies lost the final. Gayle’s run in the 2006 Champions Trophy made him the most prolific run scorer in the tournament’s history, and he still is to this day.
2007 was the year things started to change for Gayle. In 2007, he made the first T20I hundred, becoming the first player with a hundred in all 3 international formats. He took to T20s like no other batsman before him, and he can claim to have jumpstarted the T20 revolution.
Gayle’s T20 numbers are nothing short of extraordinary. With a cutoff of 3000 runs, of players with an average of over 35, only 1 other player has a strike rate of 140+ (David Warner) and both his average and strike rate are lower than Gayle’s by a significant margin (35 and 143 for Warner compared to 40.6 and 149.5 for Gayle).
With the same cutoff, among players with a strike rate of 145+, no one comes close to Gayle’s average. The average Chris Gayle innings is 40.6 runs from 27.2 balls. If 11 Chris Gayles played, they would make, on average, 179-4. That’s just an average too.
Gayle was perhaps the first batman to play T20s as its own format, rather than as short ODIs. He was never great at taking singles, but he was perhaps the best in the business at one point when it comes to hitting boundaries. Almost 75% of his runs have come in boundaries. He realized early that boundaries were how you should score, not by pinching singles and doubles.
If you can get those quick singles, fine, but you should always be looking for those big runs. A bowler will bowl bad balls in every over. Gayle backs himself to hit them for 6 almost every time. Look at it like this, 4 singles and 2 doubles gives 8 runs in an over. 4 dots and 2 sixes gives 12. When an innings is as short as a T20 one, every over should be as big as possible.
That’s why going for boundaries is what you should do. Someone like AB de Villiers is able to pinch singles and doubles, but he also goes for boundaries a lot. A stat from IPL 2016 showed that he had the second lowest dot-ball percentage (only after Virat Kohli) and had the highest boundary-ball percentage. That is the ideal way to play this format. Gayle revolutionized the boundary in a way no one else could. Everyone else just followed his lead once they saw how successful his way was.
Gayle is very comparable to Viv Richards in the way that he revolutionized the T20 format in the same way the Richards revolutionized ODIs. Gayle was there from the beginning of T20s like Richards was there from the beginning of ODIs. Gayle’s T20 numbers are ahead of his time, much like Richards’ ODI numbers were ahead of his time.
Richards’ ODI records were all broken eventually, but his legacy as the first great ODI batsman remains, and his numbers stand up with the very best to this day. David Warner, Virat Kohli and more will almost certainly break Gayle’s T20 records, but he will be seen as the original T20 innovator, like Richards was for ODIs. He set the benchmark for everyone to follow, and T20s wouldn’t quite be the same without him.
Gayle is more than just a T20 slogger though. With 7214 test runs, he’s behind only 7 other West Indians in terms of test runs. 9166 ODI runs sees him second behind only Brian Lara on the ODI runs list for West Indies. He made the first double century in a World Cup, and it made him the only player to accomplish the triple of test triple, ODI double, and T20I single ton.
He has 2 test triple hundreds, which only 3 other players, all undoubtedly all time greats (Bradman, Lara and Sehwag), have achieved. Only Brendon McCullum has made as many T20I hundreds as him (2), and no one comes close to his mark for T20 hundreds (18, the next best in 7).
That last one may last forever. Had he not missed so many tests and ODIs owing to frequent kerfuffles with the board, he almost certainly would have made 10,000 runs in tests and ODIs. But with his international career in both longer formats over due to him not taking part in the List A or First Class domestic competitions in the West Indies, his time is up in those two formats.
He could have been remembered as a great in the longer formats as well had the West Indies Cricket Board been a bit more accepting of T20 leagues instead of (time and time again) punishing those who were good enough to play in them. Instead, Gayle will have to be remembered as the first great T20 batsman, someone who revolutionized the format. He will still be glad to be remembered for that.