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HOT SPOT: Gayle comes of age


EZRA STUART

HOT SPOT: Gayle comes of age

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THREE CHEERS for Christopher Henry Gayle!
Say what you like about the languid-looking 31-year-old Jamaican left-hander, his place in Test cricket’s history is assured and his batting status has tripled.
He is now in illustrious company, alongside Don Bradman, Brian Lara and Virender Sehwag as the only batsmen in the long history of Test cricket to score two triple centuries.
But rather than give credit and commendation where it is due, some of Gayle’s long-standing critics, are now seeking to belittle his record-breaking innings by calling the Galle pitch a featherbed and mentioning that his career-best 333 was made  against a Sri Lankan attack without Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan.  
Gayle has had a love-hate relationship with West Indian fans during his international career which has spanned the last decade.
His detractors never took kindly to his laid-back style on the field; minimal footwork with a “stand and deliver” method when batting. He also ruffled a few feathers of regional administrators with his straight-forward views and many felt when he quit as captain after a home series
blow-out against Australia in 2008, the West Indies Cricket Board’s (WICB) president Julian Hunte created an even bigger monster by urging him to have a change of heart.
Untimely remarks
There has also been some untimely remarks, even if taken out of context, that “he would not be so sad” if Test cricket died out after arriving 48 hours before the start of a Test match at Lord’s.
If his multiple record-breaking second triple century in the first Test against Sri Lanka doesn’t silence his critics, nothing he does from here on, will. Even as one of the most feared opening batsmen in world cricket, especially in the limited overs versions of the game where his 19 One-Day International centuries are more than any West Indian, Gayle, until the last two years, when he started to mature as a batsman with six centuries, had under achieved on the Test stage.
The superlative 197 versus New Zealand at Napier in 2008, coming after a three-year drought without a hundred, spanning 46 innings and 25 Tests after his phenomenal 317 versus South Africa at the placid Antigua Recreation Ground surface, was the turning point in his Test career.
Two centuries at Sabina Park and Queen’s Park Oval in the home series against England last year when he led the team to a 1-0 series triumph, were followed by another pair of hundreds against Australia “Down Under”, including the memorable  unbeaten 165 in 441 minutes at Adelaide when he batted throughout the innings.
With this latest innings, I can safely say that Gayle has come of age and can now be classified as a world-class batsman, even if his present record of 6 340 runs and 13 centuries in 89 Tests at 42.26, is still beneath 45-50 average, which is the benchmark for top-tiered modern-day batsmen.
Still comparisions will be drawn with other contemporary openers such as South Africa’s Graeme Smith (87 Tests, 7 304 runs, ave: 50.72, 22 centuries, highest score 277) England’s Andrew Strauss (77 Tests, 5 777 runs, ave: 43.11, 18 centuries, highest score 177) and India’s pair of Virender Sehwag (83 Tests, 7 476 runs, ave: 54.56, 22 centuries, highest score 319) and Gautum Gambhir (35 Tests, 2 900, ave: 50.00, nine centuries).
While Gayle has gone where none of the outstanding West Indian opening batsmen such as the late Conrad Hunte (44 Tests, 3 245 runs, ave: 45.06, eight centuries, highest score 260) and Roy Fredericks (59 Tests, 4 334 runs, ave: 42.49, eight centuries, highest score 169) Gordon Greenidge (108 Tests, 7 558 runs, ave: 44.72, 19 centuries, highest score 226) and Desmond Haynes (116 Tests, 7 487 runs, ave: 42.29 , 18 centuries, highest score 184) have gone, it is really difficult to compare the present era of Test cricket with the past.
Now that he has matured after starting his career as a 20-year-old with little first-class experience under his belt, Gayle, despite not possessing the type of technique, the purists would want the schoolboys to emulate, can go on in the next five years or so, to become the West Indies’ most productive opening batsman.  
One thing is for certain though. His batting stats, embellished by 72 wickets with his underrated ff-spin at an average of 41.55, are better than the much adored Carl Hooper (102 Tests, 5 762 runs, ave: 36.46, 13 centuries, highest score 233 – 114 wickets, ave: 49.42).
Already earning millions for his cricketing skills, having successfully skippered the Stanford Superstars to victory over England in the winner-take-all US$20 million match in November, 2008, Gayle will be in more demand now. Certainly his Indian Premier League US$800 000 price tag will rise for other T20 tournaments.
Having opted not to sign the WICB’s “A” grade retainer contract of US$120 000 annually, which is thousands of dollars below what he had been auctioned for, Gayle was unnecessarily and unceremoniously removed as West Indies captain even though he had declared his commitment to Caribbean cricket.
Gayle, who must be given credit for publicly pledging to support his successor Darren Sammy, has now reiterated his commitment to West Indies cricket 333 times, in his first Test since being demoted to the rank and file.
On that captaincy topic, let me state for the record, that Gayle’s decision not to sign a retainer contract offered by the regional board, should have in no way eliminated him from leading the team, especially since the WICB has pointed out that there was nothing in contractual guidelines, precluding him.
Marked improvement
A record of three wins, nine defeats and eight draws in the 20 Tests wasn’t one which he could be truly proud of even though it was much better than his immediate predecessors but there was a marked improvement in his batting with a 47 average as captain. One of his strengths as a leader was that he was able to get the players to rally behind him throughout the team’s troubles and turbulent times.
What I thought the WICB should’ve done, was to offer Gayle an “A” grade retainer contract as captain with the appropriate renumeration. Had he refused to sign, then there would be no debate.
By not maintaining Gayle in the top post, the WICB has virtually left the door ajar for Gayle to  pursue other much more lucrative cricketing assignments even though the ICC is now making life difficult for players to ply their trade as professionals by mandating that they no longer use agents or players representative bodies as their bargaining intermediaries.
 These are changing times in cricket, rekindling the times when Clive Lloyd and other West Indian stars signed up for Kerry Packer World Series.
But rather than be happy that three West Indians, namely Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard, are among the most marketable in the world and are being offered millions for their attractive and entertaining brand of play in T20 cricket, there are some who only had Stanford 20-20 vision but have now lost sight of how cricket has evolved and want to obliterate them from West Indies team selection.
Gayle has given 333 reasons why he is proud of wearing the maroon cap. Let’s hope Sammy steps up to the plate and back his passionate captaincy with bowling and batting performances to justify the faith of the selectors.
? Ezra Stuart is a NATION senior reporter. He may be reached at [email protected]

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