There were a few moments during last year’s ICC Champions Trophy when Christopher (Chris) Henry Gayle looked as if he could win the competition all by himself. His drives through cover and his audacious boundaries spoke of a man on top of his game.
As it turned out, the West Indies were stopped at the last hurdle by Australia. But this left-handed batsman, who can also bowl right-arm off-spin, was outstanding: he scored three centuries and a total of 474 runs, 150 more than any other batsman, and took eight wickets in as many matches. Little surprise that he was named Player of the Tournament.
Anyone who has followed Gayle since his first-class debut for Jamaica at the age 19 knows that his laid-back manner and bleach-white smile mask destructive batting power. This is an opener who has a match-saving career best of 317, and along with Sanath Jayasuriya and Brian Lara is the only player in One Day International history to have three or more scores of 150.
This explosive talent was apparent from the start, but it took a while to gain consistency. Today, wiser and more responsible, Gayle has transformed erratic talent into controlled aggression which opposition teams find hard to contain. Fans and players consider him one of the best one-day players in the world, well worth the price of admission. At press time, his third-place ICC (International Cricket Council) ranking is proof of how his presence swings matches.
As his performances mature, and he has arguably claimed the title of number one Caribbean batsman, cracks in his placid temperament have begun to appear. In October, he was involved in a controversy with Australian batsman Michael Clarke. While it seemed nothing more than playful banter, it was deemed serious enough to cost him 30 per cent of his match fee.
But with the ICC 2007 Cricket World Cup on his doorstep — the West Indies will play their group D matches in Jamaica — Gayle’s consistency, aggression and spectacular batting have come together at the right time, promising an explosive contest with his opponents.