Cricket's shortest format arrived three decades after the end of the celebrated career of another West Indian, Sir Garry Sobers, the most accomplished player the game has known. It is not difficult to imagine what his all-round versatility would have been worth in today's various T20 leagues that have made millionaires of Chris Gayle and so many others.
Sir Garry Sobers and Chris Gayle
Sobers, like Gayle and his colleagues, also found relaxation away from the pressures of his fame in his night life, if somewhat differently. By the time T20 was introduced and rapidly multiplied with internationals and domestic franchises, Gayle already had two Test triple-hundreds on his c.v.. He discovered that the shortest format was ideal for his stand-and-deliver method.
He indulges in none of the scoops, ramps and reverse sweeps it has created. He opens his stance and thumps the ball with his immense body strength, mostly down the ground or over mid-wicket. His 17 against England raised his sixes count to 637 in 240 T20 matches overall; he enters today's match against Sri Lanka in Bangalore with 98 in 46 internationals.
His impish comments on TV broadcasts and the braggadocio following the best of his performances lose him credit. 'The world is watching, so the universe boss got to deliver and he did. The Gayle force got the better of England today,' he said after his hundred in the World T20 opener. 'Superstar', 'The Dominator' and 'Mr Cool' are other titles he assigns to himself.
His on-air 'don't blush, baby' comment after inviting female interviewer Mel McLaughlin out for a drink following an Australian Big Bash match in Hobart in January generated a firestorm of criticism.
It is a charge never applicable to Sobers whose only similarities with Gayle are their left-handedness and their relish for their night life. Sobers admits that he was 'a night owl', as he put it in a recent interview, explaining that if he was early to bed, he would toss and turn 'thinking of Trueman or Statham or those types of bowlers running in'. 'The later I went out, the better I produced,' he said. 'I was able to do that without any problems.'
Two nights before the Adelaide Test of the 1968-69 series, he joined Dr Rudi Webster, a fellow Barbadian who had bowled fast for Warwickshire, and myself for a night out. We were about to call it quits when Sobers talked us into heading to the Arkaba, a hotel owned by Murray Sargent, a former South Australia player.
Eventually, he accepted our concerns that the Test was imminent and agreed to head back to the hotel at around two o'clock, proclaiming that he felt 'good and relaxed' and promising a hundred. Inevitably, he compiled 110 on the first day. Not everyone could do it but, even at 36 in the twilight of his playing days, Gayle is still making a pretty decent fist of it.
Tony Cozier continues to be the voice of West Indies cricket