The double-edged sword of Gayle's six-hitting mantra

Cricket scorecards have enough information on them already, but it was during Chris Gayle’s 23rd ODI hundred that a new column was floated: “Balls Lost”.

At last count, nine white Kookaburras were thumped out of Bridgetown. Gayle was responsible for eight of them, the biggest of the lot being a 120-meter doozy off Liam Plunkett that might have made it onto the decks of a cruise ship docked in the adjacent port. It was an eye-catching knock in many ways.

Gayle, playing his first ODI since last July, was more or less dormant for the start of his innings. His first boundary – also his first six – came off the 37th ball faced, having scored just 12 from the previous 36. Somehow, 63 deliveries later, he had his hundred. Well, the “somehow” was clear: he’d scored 12 boundaries altogether and nine of them were high and handsome. But the peculiarity in the Jamaican’s work was that he faced a total of 55 dot balls from 0 to 100.

It was a nod to how West Indies approach Twenty20 cricket of using boundaries to help you make up the difference. During the Super-10 stage of their successful 2016 World T20 campaign, they had a remarkably high dot ball percentage of 45.4% – greater than all other teams. In their semi-final against India, they made up for 47 dot balls by scoring 146 of their 192 target in fours and sixes.

The 300 balls in an one-day innings allow batsmen to indulge this tactic. To say very few could and would have played the innings Gayle did is as backhanded as it reads. You could also argue that, in this era of batsmanship, no one should.

To not score off 55 of your first 100 deliveries is simply a waste, especially when about half of those were because Gayle couldn’t be bothered running to the other end. He managed just one leisurely two in that period. Fine for him, of course, but it does put his batting partner in a difficult spot. The understudy in such a situation has to shelve their plans and accept their rhythm is going to get knocked out of sync. Invariably they lose their way. Not that any of Gayle’s partners seemed to mind.

Perhaps that’s because this West Indies, ninth in the ODI rankings, defeats in each of their last 17 series, are not packed with the same star quality as their T20 outfit. They need Gayle’s runs and all the baggage that comes with them. Even if it means getting those around him to park their ego and satiate themselves with the fact that while he won’t make an effort for their runs, he also won’t for his. The sixes, though. My word.

There’s something about a Gayle six that affects everyone. A satisfying brutality that elicits an audible gasp from the crowd, like they’ve just witnessed something grimly entertaining on Game of Thrones. Out on the ground, there’s an impending sense of doom engulfing the field as those close in move to the outer limits of the 30-yard circle, backtracking slowly like kids trapped in a kitchen with a pair of velociraptors.

Eoin Morgan, not usually one to get caught up in the panto of such situations, made some dud calls. His biggest was the non-use of Adil Rashid. England are heavily into their statistical head-to-heads and the numbers did not favour the leg spinner in a showdown with Gayle. The left-hander averages 70 against balls turning into him and as he began to find his range, Morgan did not fancy feeding him. In the end, it proved too smart an oversight: Rashid adapted, served up googlies for more than half of his deliveries and even drew a top edge from Gayle that Chris Woakes failed to judge correctly.

His teammates can also be positively affected. In the 31st over, Gayle hit successive sixes off Mark Wood and two balls later, Shimron Hetmyer, who just last week was floundering against Wood’s pace in the third Test, pumped an attempted yorker into the stands at cow corner. Darren Bravo came in and struck four sixes, including one off his first ball. Ashley Nurse hit three in a cameo of 25* off eight to lift West Indies to 360 for eight from their 50 overs.

But as much as we can laud the spectacle of Gayle, a cursory glance at the scorecard for this first ODI tells of one detail he was not able to tick off. One vital nugget that suggests Gayle’s approach is one that improves the chances of success for the individual but not the team.

It was fitting, then, that Jason Roy, who dropped Gayle when the left-hander was struggling on nine off 32 balls, scored a brilliant century of his own to set England on their path to victory. Joe Root supported Roy’s 123 with his 14th ODI century. Both milestones were registered in 35 and four fewer balls than Gayle’s, respectively.

Roy and Root managed just three sixes between them compared to Gayle’s 12. Even England as a team hit half as many as the Jamaican. And not a single white Kookaburra was lost during their innings. Then again, they won the match, achieving their highest successful chase with eight balls and six wickets to spare.

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