The 2020 edition of the Indian Premier League presented a series of firsts for many. The tournament was hosted outside of India and matches were played in front of empty stadiums. The world saw MS Dhoni return to the field after over a year, a timeframe during which the former India captain announced his retirement from international cricket. There was no Suresh Raina, or Harbhajan Singh, and for the first time in the history of the tournament, Chennai Super Kings did not make it to the Playoffs.
Keeping up with the series of firsts, the IPL 2020 was a bit of a mixed bag for Chris Gayle. He has featured in the tournament since 2009 and become one of the biggest attractions of the league. However, for the first time, Gayle did not make it to the starting XI of his IPL team for as many as seven consecutive matches. He was a regular previously for Kolkata Knight Riders and then obviously, the Royal Challengers Bangalore, where his performances escalated him to the level of stardom he enjoys, but it changed in 2020.
Even when Kings XI Punjab went on a downward spiral losing six matches out of the first seven, Gayle continued to miss out. In between, he was hospitalised for food poisoning, which prolonged his wait. But when the time finally arrived, the Universe Boss showed exactly why there is no global T20 superstar quite like him. His arrival marked a change in fortunes of KXIP as the franchise won its next five games, with Gayle leading from the front with scores of 53, 51 and 99.
“It’s one of those things where, you know, the user experience varies. I haven’t and didn’t study the IPL, and missed the first seven games (the first of the IPL). But most players get upset and agitated about these things. I still play my supporting role and I explained to the team that whenever they need me, I will be available,” Gayle told Hindustan Times in an exclusive chat.
In 2018, when Gayle had moved to KXIP after spending seven years with RCB, the West Indies batsman in an interview offered a bit of a cold shoulder to the Red and Yellow. He had revealed how RCB had shown interest in retaining him but the phone call never came. Still, there wasn’t any animosity there. Immediately upon switching sides, Gayle peeled off a hundred in his fourth match and bagged two Player of the Match awards in between.
In two seasons prior to this, Gayle had notched up 368 and 490 runs in 2018 and 2019 respectively, so when he was not included in the XI, it was every bit surprising. Sturdier men would have wilted, but the swag with which Gayle rolls, never allowed any form of insecurity to creep in.
“But I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t start the IPL but eventually it happened and I played the first game, even though I got sick when I was supposed to play again. There were plenty of twists and turns before I actually played my first game,” he said. “But eventually it happened and I was able to use my experience within IPL, because, you know I’ve been playing the tournament since the beginning. There was nothing to actually write about, but just to show people that you know Universe Boss is still around, because I’m the goat. So, it’s just one of those things they can learn from their mistake, not me.”
At 41, winner of two World T20 titles, Gayle insists he is not close to retirement. In early 2019, Gayle announced that he would bid farewell to ODIs after the World Cup, but took a U-turn during the tournament in England. Against India at home, after being dismissed for 72, he walked off raising his bat and to a round of applause from the crowd, hinting that he’d played his final 50-over game for his country. And while that could well have happened, Gayle is eyeing next year’s T20 World Cup in India. It’s almost as if WWE icon Sting’s catchphrase, ‘The only thing that’s for sure is that nothing is for sure’ resonates aptly with Gayle.
“Absolutely. I’m still looking forward to it now onwards. I’m still in my prime. I still have a lot of cricket to play. Next month I will be in Abu Dhabi to play T10. Then, I am ahead of the PSL, and I’ll see what’s happening after that as well,” Gayle said when asked whether the 2021 T20 World Cup is in his mind.
Coming off the inaugural Ultimate Kricket Challenge, Gayle is hitting the straps for the T10 league where he will turn up as the icon player for Team Abu Dhabi and will square off against the likes of Shahid Afridi and Dwayne Bravo. Having said that Gayle has ensured he stays connected with the cricket that’s taking place around the world, including the four-Test Border-Gavaskar Trophy between India and Australia Down Under.
While he isn’t into it entirely, Gayle is aware of India’s stunning comeback in Melbourne following the crushing defeat in Adelaide, and congratulated stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane for a remarkable turnaround and keeping the series alive.
“I’m not fully following it to be honest. Based on the last result, they had, getting bowled out in the first Test with 36, there were so many talks that happened and there were different speculations about the team. It was facing a lot of pressure, and then to be able to bounce back with such a fantastic win against Australia the Boxing Day Test much. India really deserve a pat on their back,” Gayle said.
“You know that performance, it takes strength of character to actually bounce back from such a heavy defeat in the first Test. So, Rahane did a fantastic job there. Congratulations to Rahane and Team India. The third Test should be one to watch as well. All the guns are going to be blazing from both teams.”
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