When you are starting, it’s crucial to get the basics right, and then you can build on that base. Don’t try to bat like Chris Gayle.” This statement from the dazzling West Indian himself came as gushing water in the desert for local coaches in Mumbai. For, now they can convey Gayle’s message to those young cricketers in a more emphatic fashion.
Though Mumbai have claimed 40 Ranji Trophy titles, things are not rosy at the lower levels. Standards have fallen, opine the pundits and cricketers don’t get their priorities right in the age of T20 cricket.
Rajesh Sanil, a coach at Sanjeevani Cricket Academy in Bandra spoke about Gayle’s influence on young minds by citing the example of his son. “I asked my seven-year old son to join me and watch Ricky Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar bat for Mumbai Indians. But he refused and said, ‘it’s okay. I have already seen Gayle’s batting. He is better.’ I did not know how to react. Kids watch IPL and get influenced. They clear their front leg and play shots which they should not do at this age,”
If the academy boys have been blindly following Gayle, school cricket is not far behind. “Since Gayle started to make mockery of the opposition in IPL, kids have started practising reverse sweeps and upper cuts in the nets. As a result, the three-day inter-school games finish in one and a half day. They are not able to play long innings and spend time in the middle. They have been attracted by IPL and the glamour of it”, said Amar Vaidya, coach of Balmohan Vidyamandir School.
When asked about how this problem can be countered, Vaidya replied: “I tell them not to imitate shots played in T20 cricket. But as soon as I turn my back, they are back to square one. This is exactly why Mumbai are not producing Test players. Gayle has made a good point. I will surely convey his view to my kids.”
Raju Dabholkar, who oversees a Mumbai Cricket Association summer camp for under-14s, said, “I tell them to ignore the IPL. Those who listen, play good cricket. Those who don’t, get marginalised.”
Rajesh Sanil looked at things practically too. “It is impossible to convince kids not to watch IPL. So we try and explain to them the reason behind Gayle’s success. His steady head-position is something the kids can emulate. It is important to get the best out of everything. Flamboyance will be a part of cricket and we have to accept that. At the same time, I give the example of Rahul Dravid and tell them to get their basics right because only then you can adapt to various conditions and succeed all over the world in all the formats, while Gayle is one-dimensional. It is nice of Gayle to have said what he said,” opined Sanil.
Mumbai under-25 coach Vilas Godbole emphasised: “Gayle is absolutely right. When Mumbai bowlers targeted his body, he could not score runs. I make my boys understand the importance of playing big innings which is not possible with Gayle’s technique,” said Godbole.
Satish Samant, coach of Mumbai under-19 appeared more liberal. “If kids want to copy Gayle, let them do it. It is our job to explain the pros and cons. And if a boy can hit the ball like Gayle, why shouldn’t he continue doing so? A player should do whatever suits him,” he said.