Cricket for Americans: 20 Feb. 2019: Gayle force winds

Chris Gayle is back!

One of the greatest batsman of the T20 era has started his ODI retirement tour in the first ODI between The West Indies and England down in Bridgetown. And he did it with style, scoring a slow starting but innings saving 135 off of 129 balls with four threes and 12 sixes before Stokes bowled him in the 47th over. Being the opener, all told he batted for 216 minutes, nearly four hours. (In true West Indian character, though, his century will not be enough. Most of the rest of the lineup did little or nothing with the bat, and their attack has allowed England to score rather freely in the chase.)

It was a quintessential Gayle innings: aggressive but also somehow disciplined. He is best known for his blistering T20 performances in the IPL and for the West Indies, but he can also slow down and bat all day in a Test match if he wants. In 2009, he batted for nearly eight hours against Australia, grinding out a 165 not out to save a match. And he’s only the fourth batsman to score two triple centuries in Test matches.

But limited overs cricket, especially the T20, is where he has thrived: the fastest ever ODI double century, only the third batsman to score a century off of 11 countries in ODIs, the first batsman to score a T20 century, most sixes in T20 cricket, 10,000 domestic T20 runs, the fastest T20 half century (off of 12 balls!), highest number of sixes in a T20 innings. And on and on.

Gayle is one of cricket’s great showman. He is also one of its most flawed individuals. His poor treatment of female reporters is well documented, and his fights with the West Indian cricket board over everything from sponsorship contracts to coaching styles — justified or not — tend to have overshadowed his performances on the field. Rightfully so, in the case of the former.

What will his legacy be? It’s hard to tell. I would like to think it would be as the person who saved West Indian cricket — the teams that he played for were not always good, and were sometimes downright terrible, but now the country boasts a stable of young talent. But then again he was a cricket mercenary who played T20 wherever the money was, while refusing over and over again to play for his national team. A harbinger of the dystopian domestic league nightmare we all worry about it? Possibly While his sixes in the IPL were fun, it’s his patient Test match tons which the game sorely needed.

And his treatment of women should be a lesson to all young players: don’t do this.

He’s a flawed showman, who will leave a conflicted and difficult legacy for the historians to parse through.

But he is still a joy to watch bat. And while that might not be his only legacy, it will be a big part of it. Maybe, for now, we just enjoy him while we can.

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