It’s rather amazing when you come to think of it. That in the 137-year history of Test cricket, no one had ever hit a six off the first ball of the match. And then, on 13 November, 2012, Chris Gayle whacked Bangladeshi off-spinner Sohag Gazi over long on off his first ball at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium at Dhaka, before the morning dew had dried.
Poor Gazi. It was also the first ball he ever bowled in a Test match. Though some overs later, he did manage to get Gayle caught for 24.
Of course, it’s entirely fitting that it was Gayle who his that six. The only other opening batsman currently playing who could have done it is Virender Sehwag, and Sehwag is the sort of guy who would heartily applaud Gayle—the thought that he missed out on that one would never have crossed his mind.
Sehwag and Gayle are without doubt the most exciting and dangerous batsmen of their generation. I keep Michael Clarke, Jacques Kallis, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumara Sangakkara out of this list for good reason. Though awesomely talented, they are all men of exemplary behaviour, exuding a serious outlook towards life, the desire to do the right thing, and every other quality that a mother would like to see in a son.
Gayle and Sehwag, on the other hand, give the impression that they don’t take life too seriously, aren’t concerned about records, don’t consider themselves to be statesmen, in fact have no intention of being anything other than what they are: mighty whackers of the cricket ball. Gayle has had enough trouble with his cricket board. As for Sehwag, for most of his career, the administrators have just let him be. If Gayle was not playing cricket, he would surely have been in a hip-hop band (maybe even gangsta rap, but played more for laughs). Sehwag hums Kishore Kumar songs as he murders bowlers.
The litmus test for reaching the Gayle-Sehwag category is the amount of unease the fielding side feels when a batsman comes in to play. Relying almost wholly on instinct and hand-eye coordination, and ignorant of the rules of footwork and technique, they are, as a friend of mine once said, grenades without the pin. Great batsmen have always been able to demoralize bowlers and fielders, be it a Ponting or a Gooch, a Dravid or an Inzamam. But a Gayle or a Sehwag, when they get going, can destroy the victims’ self-esteem. A 278-ball triple century (Sehwag against South Africa, 2008) or a 140-ball ODI double century (Sehwag against the West Indies, 2011) can make all but the toughest minds consider trying out therapy.
The problem, as the rival team knows, is that you can bowl like you were possessed by the spirit of a Malcolm Marshall feeling mean, and field like panthers on steroids, but it doesn’t matter for batsmen like these. They are so wrapped up in their own beat and rhythm that they don’t even notice. The particular faculty that allows a batsman to differentiate between a half-volley and a toe-crusher seems seriously impaired. A total democratization of deliveries seems to be some crazy cause they are bludgeoning around for. That seems so bloody unfair.
And unlike the Kluseners and Afridis in top form, Sehwag and Gayle can score big centuries, really big ones. They are among the only four batsmen to have scored two triple-centuries—the others being Bradman and Lara. And Sehwag has been dismissed thrice in the 290s. That’s sort of terrifying. Gayle’s feats in the IPL are well-known. He is without doubt the best T20 batsman in the world.
When they end their careers, they may not come in the top 10 of all time by the usual parameters. But they would have cracked (in fact, have already) some very interesting records. Those records will be unusual, outliers that defy the statistical Bell curves—starbursts rather than grand journeys. And those feats will be as tough to emulate or cross as any of the standard numbers that confront us every time we check a player’s career record.
Yesterday, Chris Gayle sent a unique Happy Diwali message to the cricketing world. He deserved a big burst of firecrackers in return—and so what if we polluted the air just a bit more.