GROS ISLET, St Lucia, CMC – Only a few days ago, Chris Gayle was lying on a beach in Jamaica soaking up warm mid-January sunshine and unwinding from a difficult Australian Big Bash campaign.
There were no thoughts of the ongoing Caribbean Twenty20 in St Lucia after not being considered for the Jamaica squad because of his contractual obligations to Sydney Thunder.
All it took was a single phone call, however, and Gayle got dressed, picked up his gear bag and exchanged the tranquillity of the shoreline for the intensity of the cricket field. The rest, as they say, is history.
He announced his arrival with an awesome 85 against Combined Campuses and Colleges on Friday before unveiling a breathtaking unbeaten 122 off 61 balls in the playoff final against Guyana, albeit in a losing cause on Saturday night.
“When I came back from Australia I only spent two days in Jamaica and then I had to travel again. I spent a few days on the beach with family and then I got the call and had to jump on a plane to come here and play cricket,” Gayle said.
“I am a cricketer and once you’re a professional cricketer and you prepare yourself mentally for these sort of things – the unexpected – I’m sure you can still do well.”
Gayle struggled with uncharacteristically poor form in the Big Bash, accumulating just 137 runs from seven innings, at an average of just over 19. His highest score came in his final innings, 65 against Melbourne Stars.
Revelling in familiar Caribbean conditions, however, Gayle shook off his lethargy to blast four fours and nine sixes to decimate a hapless CCC attack at the Beausejour Cricket Stadium.
“[It] felt good to be back here in the Caribbean playing cricket. It was a tough challenge for me out there to get 85 runs. The first over was, I don’t really know how to describe it, but I was just happy I got through it and was able to take it from there,” Gayle explained.
“I got an eye-opener to start with and I really loved that … it was a sharp one from Jason (Holder) and it opened my eyes and put me back in the right frame of mind.
“It’s a good wicket to bat on and chasing 150 on this kind of surface, once you get a good start, you should win, and we did.”
In both innings, Gayle traded mainly in sixes. During his hundred against Guyana, he added another 12 sixes – including the longest of the tournament which measured 112 metres off leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo.
Gayle said his phenomenal six-hitting powers had more to do with balance than brute strength.
“You need good balance. I was in the gym so I feel strong as well and that helped as well. You have to set the foundation when you’re batting … the balance is key,” he pointed out.
“The bat that you use is key as well, you need a good bat in your hand and once you have that right, the ball can travel a long way.”
Jamaica’s six-wicket defeat at the penultimate stage of the tournament meant the end of the Gayle entertainment show, at least for now. He will pack up and return to Jamaica but on this occasion there will be no time for leisure.
In another few days, he will again exchange the familiarity of the Caribbean for the cricketing cauldrons of Australia when West Indies do battle with the hosts in a five One-Day Internationals and a Twenty20.
The left-hander anticipates tough time for West Indies but believes the Caribbean side has the mettle and know-how required, to prevail.
“It will be a challenge for us. Playing Australia in Australia is never easy but five ODIs, I think we will be looking to get the better of them in this format,” Gayle noted.
“We want to get off to a good start. It will be key for us to cash in on those first few games but once we get in and get accustomed to the conditions, [we should do well].
“The good thing about it is that a couple of our guys have been down there already and hopefully that can help the team as well in terms of utilising the conditions and sharing their experience with others.”