He’s the rebel with plenty of causes, most of which have put him at loggerheads with West Indies officialdom, but no one can deny that Chris Gayle is cricket box office, a globe-trotting superstar with a bat for hire.
The 35-year-old Jamaican left-hander smashed the highest individual World Cup score of 215, equalling the highest number of sixes in a one-day international innings with 16 and playing the alpha-male role in a record ODI partnership of 372 with Marlon Samuels.
Gayle’s record-breaking innings provided the platform for the Windies’ convincing 73-run win over Zimbabwe at Manuka Oval in Canberra on Tuesday.
Samuels was no slouch either, racking up 133 not out as the West Indies made 2-372 from their 50 overs.
Early rain reduced Zimbabwe’s target to 363 from 48 overs, but despite a gallant effort led by Sean Williams (76) and Craig Irvine (52) the Zimbabweans were bowled out for 289.
Gayle added to his runs with figures of 2-35 and a catch, while opening bowlers Jerome Taylor and Jason Holder took three wickets each.
Gayle’s innings came just days after West Indies Cricket Board president Dave Cameron embarrassingly retweeted a fan’s call for the mercurial batsman to be pensioned off after another flop.
“Gayle goes… Can’t buy a run. Let’s give him a retirement package … Can’t fail repeatedly and still front up based on reputation”, the fan wrote.
Cameron later deleted the tweet and apologised.
No offense intended. Full apologies extended. Rally round the West Indies
— President Cameron (@davec51) February 21, 2015
Gayle is and has been one of his team’s few genuine match-winners in an era when the former kings of the sport have often been reduced to a supporting role.
But his roller-coaster relationship with the WICB has threatened his legacy.
On the eve of the World Cup, he accused the ruling body of victimisation for dropping Dwayne Bravo and Kieran Pollard from the squad as punishment for their role in last October’s abandoned tour of India, a controversial gesture which landed the WICB with a bill for $42 million in compensation.
Gayle, as a result, has been summoned to appear before a disciplinary commission to explain his outburst.
Being carpeted is nothing new for Gayle, the reggae-loving, fast-car driving, unofficial trade unionist for the squad.
Back in 2009, he was one of the leading figures in the decision to boycott a home series against Bangladesh, with all senior players refusing to take part in the Tests and one-dayers in a familiar row over money.
Six years on, Gayle is still in combative mood and on the eve of the team’s departure for the World Cup he refused the offer of a central contract with speculation that with his patience for Test cricket waning, the hard-hitting batsman may call time on his international career.
Not that he’ll be without offers of employment after his market value shot up on a dank, cloudy afternoon on Tuesday.
His CV already lists 13 teams – West Indies, Barisal Burners, Dhaka Gladiators, ICC World XI, Jamaica, Jamaica Tallawahs, Kolkata Knight Riders, Matabeleland Tuskers, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Stanford Superstars, Sydney Thunder, Western Australia and Worcestershire.
Gayle is hot-wired for Twenty20 cricket – he hit the first century in Twenty20 internationals against South Africa in the World Twenty20 in 2007 and at the 2013 Indian Premier League he smashed 175.
But his 103 Tests have also proved fruitful since his 2000 debut.
Against Sri Lanka at Galle in 2010, he batted almost 10 hours and scored 333 to become the only the fourth batsman to score two triples in Test cricket.