Chris Gayle is a man still very much in demand, even though it hasn’t been the most productive of years for him. Every time he enters a cricket ground whirling his heavy bat like a little match stick, there is a buzz in the stands, and the sense of anticipation is palpable. That buzz reaches a crescendo if he is in the red and black of Royal Challengers Bangalore, and the setting is the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. Gayle has long stopped being an honorary Bangalorean; he is today an acknowledged full-fledged son of the soil, alongside Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers.
So what if Gayle the batsman has fallen somewhat on hard times? The clamour for his time, attention and larger-than-life persona is overwhelming, both from his legion of fans and from brands that are aware of his magnetic pulling power.
Which is why it is no surprise that late evening has come and gone a long time back, early night too has passed into history, and there I am sitting in the lobby of his hotel, waiting for him to return from his latest commitment. It has been quite a wait, more than an hour and a half, when word comes through around 10.15 pm that he is back in the hotel, and could I please head over to meet up with the big man?
“Exhausted, maan,” he drawls in that captivating Jamaican accent, his first words after the exchange of greetings. But if you thought Gayle was setting the stage for a short, terse interaction, then those fears were to prove totally unfounded.
It’s been an Indian Premier League campaign to forget for Gayle and his franchise. Bangalore are doomed to finish an unprecedented eighth and last; Gayle has only made 152 runs in eight digs. But during the course of his only half-century of the season, a bruising 77 against Gujarat Lions, he became the first man to top 10,000 runs in Twenty20 cricket.
Subsequent scores of 7, 8, 0 and 0 have not quite been in keeping with his reputation as the master of the T20 game. Coming on the back of modest returns of 160 runs in nine hits for Karachi Kings in the Pakistan Super League in February-March, they have served to erode some of the Gayle aura.
But, Gayle insists, these are just a couple of tiny bumps on the road. A wise 37, he is in no mood to slow down, and already has half an eye on the Caribbean Premier League. Having led Jamaica Tallawahs to two titles in four seasons, he will captain the St Kitts & Nevis Patriots this time round.
In this freewheeling and entertaining chat with Wisden India, dotted liberally with ‘you know’ and ‘as well’, Gayle reflects on the unfamiliar role of bench-man, the unalloyed delight at the support of the fans, the unique West Indian flair and flamboyance, the forthcoming CPL stint with St Kitts & Nevis, and a whole lot more. Excerpts:
It’s been three weeks now since you topped 10,000 T20 runs. What does it mean to you, to be the first man to get there?
It is a great accomplishment, to be honest with you. We have seen guys score 10,000 runs in Test cricket, and in ODI cricket as well. To be the first person to do so in T20 cricket is fantastic. It is a great achievement from my point of view and I have a lot more runs inside of me to maybe boost that to 11,000 runs, see if I can get to 12,000 runs. I will always try and continue the showcase but first, for all the franchises that I have actually played for, they have been fantastic. I am happy to share these runs globally, around the world. Also West Indies — they are the ones who started it, pretty much the ones who set the foundation. It is fantastic for me to achieve 10,000 T20 runs.
What does that achievement tell you about Chris Gayle?
It says a lot, you know. People symbolise me as the T20 king and whatever name they want to create pertaining to T20. They tend to stray away from what I have done in Test cricket or 50-over ODI cricket as well. But that’s something you will have to live with. T20 cricket is very modern now and it has actually taken over the world by storm. So people are always judging you by what they are seeing now. I can’t beat them, I just have to accept what they say. If they say I am the king of T20, so be it. But the king of T20 has two triple-centuries in Tests as well, the most ODI centuries (22) for West Indies. The list goes and on. But that’s how it is and you just have to face the fact and accept it.
There is a nice symmetry there – triple-hundred(s) in Tests, double-hundred in ODIs, hundred in T20Is…
It’s a good thing. It shows strong character, great mindset. And the way you go about your innings. I have been such an entertainer in all formats of the game. It’s unique strength, you know. It is not only the talent, it is also the strength to make that adjustment. Those days, they played only Test cricket, then came ODI cricket and then when that third format came about, you had to make that adjustment in all formats as quickly as possible. And all three of them are very different when you look at it. T20 cricket actually changed Test cricket, changed ODI cricket. 200 runs in ODIs is well below par these days when those totals were winning totals in the past. You can score 300-350 now and you can still get it chased down in ODI cricket. Test cricket, sometimes teams easily scoring 300 in a day — the T20 format has actually changed the entire structure of cricket.
On Virat Kohli
He is the No. 1 cricketer in India right now. He is a marquee player, he has taken off from the likes of the master, Sachin, and those guys. When you check the history here, with Sachin, you had Rahul and Laxman. Those guys were the marquee players of Indian cricket at that time. You had Ganguly as well. But those guys have finished now, he is the man to take over the baton which MS Dhoni actually left off as well.
Getting to 10,000 apart, it has been a difficult season for you and for Bangalore. How does someone like you reconcile to that?
You just try and brush it aside as quickly as possible. You can’t brush it away overnight, obviously we still are in the tournament. We still have one more game to play (against Delhi Daredevils on May 14) and we still want to put on a show, finish on a high because sometimes people remember you for your last innings. We still have a chance to do that, which is good. But having said that, if the tournament finishes and that (the intended show) still doesn’t happen, we will have to reflect. You always have to reflect. And then, ‘It’s ok, that was history, that is part of life. These things do happen, we are all humans, and it’s cricket – you are always going to have ups and downs’. It is just like a job – sometimes your business will be growing and sometimes you just break even or go below. I look at it like that. You accept it, move on, think fresh, chill, get some time away from the game and then you work out what’s ahead of you. You can actually look to build to a new tournament and stamp your mark again. You get back on top again.
Is that the same philosophy you adopt when you are benched, like you have occasionally been by Bangalore in the last couple of seasons?
It’s new for me to be sitting out, to being benched. It started from last season when I missed out a few games when I went back for the birth of my child. It’s only natural, I am human. I am very easy to deal with. Once you come and you deal with me straight up, I am pretty easy-going, and I am always a team person. That is a great nature of me, what’s good for the team is my priority. I can’t play selfish cricket, there is no way. What the team requires, I will put my hand up and try to get that job done. But you sit down, you reflect, let the coach know that whenever you call me, I will always be ready.
The world sort of looks at you as part-cricketer, part-entertainer…
(Almost jumping in) No, no, I am not a part-cricketer. I am a full-time cricketer. To be honest with you, the entertainment just comes about. Being a West Indian, it is always going to automatically transform into your cricket game as well. Sometimes we love to – not sometimes, actually! – we do love to have fun. We create styles on the field. We like to look good, we are flamboyant; when we score a century, we want to do a particular celebration. And I think we as West Indians, we have created so much style within cricket that other teams have learnt from us. Teams actually used to learn from the Viv Richards-Australia takeover style, being aggressive, playing aggressive.
But when it comes to style and flamboyance, it is always West Indies and you can see that within a lot of nations right now around the T20 world. Guys copy us, put it that way. Guys copy us as West Indian players, how we go about it, and they put it into their game and their perspective. Guys are a bit more relaxed now, having fun which they don’t normally do off the field. We showcased those things. Guys around the world, I don’t know if they are very scared they might be criticised if they party too much and if something didn’t happen in the middle – ‘Yes, you are partying too much, you must focus on your cricket’. But life is always about mixture, you know. We bring that within the game. Most people wouldn’t say it is because of West Indians that we do certain things. But I can tell you, it is because of us. This nation does a lot of things, this cricketing nation. You name it.
On why everyone loves Gayle
People gravitate and realise that I am a real and true person, the realest person that you will meet within the span of the game today, it’s Chris Gayle. There is no other like Chris Gayle — very, very, very chill guy. Dressing-room is not a problem for Chris Gayle, to get along with anyone is fine but I am a person who stands for what I believe in. If a particular person wants to cross the line, then it will move to a different arena as well. I have always been like this, a very strong character. Very humble and chill. Open, extroverted persona all my life, definitely.
Is that a big contribution from Caribbean cricket, telling the rest that you can enjoy life off the field and still be a success on it?
We don’t necessarily have to tell them. They look, and they will follow. They will emulate and say, ‘Listen to me, this guy has been successful, he is having a great time off the field, why am I so uptight? Maybe I need to relax and free up myself a bit more. Maybe enjoy life a little more rather than cricket only’. There will always be life after cricket as well. Why not try and enjoy it? You play ten years of your international cricket; by the time you look, ten years of your life gone, you know. Even though that is your livelihood and you are doing your work. But then you look at it and say, ‘Now I am going to play catch-up to have some fun. I finished by the game’. But you can mix it with both. You can still have your fun, and go out there and entertain us all and perform. Definitely, there is a mixture between entertainment and the game of cricket.
How much do you feed off the frenzied support of your fans?
The fans and their support means a lot because their expectation is so high, they want to see me perform all the time. I shouldn’t fail for them. There is no time I should fail for them. That’s why when I don’t get the performance, you might come under that little bit of pressure to extend or overreach. You might feel that you have let your fans down because you have done so much and the expectation is so high, you didn’t deliver. That’s something you have to live with. I still feed off my fans because I want to give them something to cheer about. It’s special playing here in India, where cricket is the No. 1 priority and the fans keep cheering for you, regardless of what. I really, really enjoy it and I really feed off the fans. When they are involved, they make me more involved in the game.
We only see Chris Gayle partying and having a good time off the field, but you must also have put in plenty of work on your fitness, particularly?
Exactly. I have done a lot of fitness. I have gone to so many camps as a youngster, teenager coming up. I have been to so many camps, team sessions. When I say camps, you have pre-season and those sort of things as well. I have done just tremendous work. I have put in just extreme hard work – I stress at it, extreme hard work – and it has paid off. I am in a zone now where I can use experience. I don’t have to really put in that intense gym session these days. It is how you monitor your body now, that’s because you are getting older. You got to know how to make that necessary adjustment. You can’t do that sort of big workload and then when you go into the game, you are already burned out a bit. You got to know how to mix it a bit. With my experience and I don’t just have too much else to prove really, I know how to go about it. Like a flicker (flicking the right thumb and middle finger for emphasis), I can switch on during any particular game at any particular time.
What are the demands of playing only franchise cricket, being away from the international grade?
It’s not really difficult because most tournaments are back-to-back. Even if you are not playing international cricket, it is a lot of cricket still played, regardless of that. So you will always be very, very active. Sometimes, you might not get the time to practice on your own because there is so little break in between tournaments. That’s the time when you want to catch up with your friends and your family. Some chill time for yourself. You have to stay away from the game at some time. You don’t want to be caught up in too much of that cricket. You want your mind to actually take itself to other places, clear your mind when you come back into a new tournament, start fresh again. You always want your mind to be fresh when you come back to play cricket.
I have put in just extreme hard work – I stress at it, extreme hard work – and it has paid off. I am in a zone now where I can use experience. I don’t have to really put in that intense gym session these days. It is how you monitor your body now, that’s because you are getting older. You got to know how to make that necessary adjustment. You can’t do that sort of big workload and then when you go into the game, you are already burned out a bit. You got to know how to mix it a bit.
And how has it been, adjusting to different leagues, teams, cultures, in franchise cricket?
It’s good. I am the type of person who knows how to socialise. I know how to interact with people. I get along well with people and I know how to deal with people. That makes my job pretty much easier in the dressing-room. I am a fun guy, I love to see guys smiling, I love to crack jokes. When I am in the team, I would be cracking a lot of jokes. I am just easy to fit into any particular dressing-room around the world. And people gravitate towards me as well. Not necessarily from being the big cricketer but with the person I am. People gravitate and realise that I am a real and true person, the realest person that you will meet within the span of the game today, it’s Chris Gayle. There is no other like Chris Gayle — very, very, very chill guy. Dressing-room is not a problem for Chris Gayle, to get along with anyone is fine but I am a person who stands for what I believe in. If a particular person wants to cross the line, then it will move to a different arena as well. I have always been like this, a very strong character. Very humble and chill. Open, extroverted persona all my life, definitely.
You have had a ringside view of Virat Kohli’s growth, could you talk us through that?
He is the No. 1 cricketer in India right now. He is a marquee player, he has taken off from the likes of the master, Sachin, and those guys. When you check the history here, with Sachin, you had Rahul and Laxman. Those guys were the marquee players of Indian cricket at that time. You had Ganguly as well. But those guys have finished now, he is the man to take over the baton which MS Dhoni actually left off as well. MS Dhoni put him in a good space, he has done so much as a captain. So I am sure he can feed off what MS has done for the team and how he moulded the team. But each captain will have their different aspects of captaining and going about things. He is what, 28? He still has a lot more maturity to have in life, and to grow as a person. He is still very young, doing so well for himself and his team. He will always have enough room for the learning process. He will have stuff to learn and he will gain more knowledge the more he goes on and plays.
On Bangalore’s season, and dealing with failure
You always have to reflect. And then, ‘It’s ok, that was history, that is part of life. These things do happen, we are all humans, and it’s cricket – you are always going to have ups and downs’. It is just like a job – sometimes your business will be growing and sometimes you just break even or go below. I look at it like that. You accept it, move on, think fresh, chill, get some time away from the game and then you work out what’s ahead of you. You can actually look to build to a new tournament and stamp your mark again. You get back on top again.
You are an investor, and you have appeared in numerous commercials/endorsements. Do you enjoy the luxury of takes and retakes during shoots that cricket does not accord you?
Yeah, it is good. The sport itself is a business, so why not utilise it and make a business of it off the field? I have been that type of person, as I mentioned, easy to interact with people. So once I come in front of the camera, things that I have done on the field, people still want to see in front of the camera, off the field as well. Those are really simple things, it is really good. If you as a player have that capability to do both things, then why not cash in on it? It’s a business, make sure you leave your name in a good aspect, a business avenue. You need to make sure that when you walk away from the game, that you still tie up and join hands with those businesses. Hopefully, sportspersons really learn about these things. There’s a lot exposure on sports around the world and a lot of them sportspersons walk away from the game with a lot of money. But in many cases, you know, the money just gone to pieces suddenly. While in the limelight, they didn’t think down the road. We the modern sportspersons have to be mindful of these sort of things and try not to allow yourself to get into those situations. Things can happen, you just got to be careful and mindful of those.
It hasn’t been a great year so far for you, in terms of returns in the PSL and the IPL. What does the future hold?
The CPL, I am definitely looking forward to it. After this IPL, I have got like two months off. August, I will be back on the field, working towards that to get back to full fitness. I will be playing for a new franchise, so there is already a boost for me ahead of the CPL. I am definitely hungry for the CPL, looking forward to it. Not necessarily going to prove anything, just to go and enjoy the cricket, enjoy being the captain. I have been the captain and won the tournament twice, so I am definitely looking forward to making those necessary adjustments with a new team, a new franchise. Hopefully, we can cross some sort of recognition, be up there in the playoffs. That’s my objective — to try and take my new team to the playoffs.