Opinion: Gayle is pure entertainment

“Gayle goes… Can’t buy a run. Let’s give him a retirement package … Can’t fail repeatedly and still front up based on reputation.” – @DrGibraun on Twitter.

A pretty innocuous tweet. The kind that is sent every day by frustrated fans as they watch cricketers fail. Sometimes those tweets are entirely unjustified, just ask Ravi Bopara. And sometimes the player deserves every bit of the ire he is receiving, just ask Ravi Bopara.

In this instance Dr Gibraun had a point. Not a brilliant one, but Gayle has been struggling. It had been 20 ODI innings and nearly two years since his last ODI hundred and he had passed 50 just once in that time. The tweet was posted as Gayle had scored just four runs off 14 balls. He had poked at the ball like a giant trying to swat a wasp with a railway sleeper.

Now, a fan frustrated at a big name failing to make the most of their immense talent is hardly surprising. What elevated this particular tweet was that it was sent to the President of the West Indies Cricket Board, Dave Cameron, who then retweeted it to his followers.

Retweets, as we know, are not endorsements, but people only say that so they don’t get in trouble for what other people have said. The reason that you hit that retweet button is because you think the person has a point. Sometimes it is because you really don’t, but that is rare and usually followed up with a; “Check out that last retweet, what an idiot” caveat.

Even if Cameron didn’t agree with the sentiment contained in this tweet, a board official sharing public criticism of one of their employees is mind-blowingly daft. Cameron’s Twitter account (@davec51) has been a must follow for cricket administration nerds for a while, the highlight being him happily retweeting inspirational quotes as the West Indies player strike during the tour of India unfolded.

He has apologised for this retweeting faux pas, of course, but this was just another example of the how poisonous relations between the players and board have become in the Caribbean.  The West Indies have been inconsistent in this World Cup, as defeat to Ireland and victory over Pakistan proves, but imagine Giles Clarke retweeting an anti Kevin Pietersen comment for a moment…Remarkable.

So as Gayle walked out to bat against the West Indies he would no doubt have been thinking about all of this. Or maybe he wasn’t, maybe he had the same clarity of thought that he always has. Succeed or fail, Gayle plays the same way. He has more than twice as many T20 hundreds than any other player for a reason. He remains the only man to hit the first ball of a Test match for a six.

See ball. Hit ball. All the way to an ODI double hundred.

Here his innings followed a similar pattern to so many others. That first ball six in a Test against Bangladesh is actually quite rare. More often than that Gayle takes his time. In fact he was lucky to survive his first ball. The West Indies had already lost Dwayne Smith in the first over and Gayle was struck on the pads. A massive appeal was turned down and Zimbabwe used a review. Gayle was saved because “only” 49.999% of the ball was crashing into the stumps. Given another umpire on another day Dr Gibraun would have been tweeting away again. Instead, Gayle set a message more powerful than even social media can manage.

He did not hit his first six until the 32nd ball that he had faced, and he was still going at about a run a ball. In fact he didn’t bring up his hundred until the 36th over, off the 105th ball that he had faced. So far so unremarkable. Yes he had hit some sixes but he had also chewed up a lot of dot balls.

It is the next 14 overs that are what this innings will be remembered for as he blazed 115 runs from 42 balls, scoring the fastest ever ODI double ton in the process. The West Indies had scored 220 in the 40th over. The next ten saw them put on 152.

There is no one that can do what Gayle does the way that he does it. The supreme confidence that he has to take his time and catch up doesn’t always work out, but when it does he wins the game for his team.

Many have spoken of “big bats” being the reason for this late order hitting that has now become so prevalent, and perhaps they have seen an increase in performance, but they are far from the only reason let alone the biggest one. The real difference is created by fielding restrictions and having two new balls.

Now there are a maximum of four fielders outside the 30 metre fielding circle, it is all PowerPlay all the time. While the two new balls have meant the batsman have to work hard in the first ten overs it means that have two balls hard enough to smack for miles in the last ten.

Not that any of this matters of course. As when Rohit Sharma scored his 264 a few months back, cricket is entertainment. Chris Gayle is entertainment.

Are you not entertained?

Peter Miller