Cape Town – He seems to believe he is too sexy for his shirt … and at least as far as Twenty20 cricket success against South Africa is concerned, Chris Gayle is that.
The big Jamaican’s controversial womanising exploits off the park are well documented, but when it comes to his professional career, you could say he also “gets his way” more often than not when he encounters the Proteas in the format.
Gayle is expected to line up again for a seventh time against the men in green and gold – reportedly free of a hamstring niggle that kept him from the crease against Sri Lanka last time out – when they meet in a likely make-or-break (for SA, at least) ICC World Twenty20 fixture at Nagpur on Friday.
Encouragingly for the West Indies, they haven’t been a one-man-band in successive victories at the tournament over England and then the ‘Lankans; many others have contributed either with blade or ball.
Yet the impression understandably remains that the 36-year-old, ridiculously hard-smacking batsman is the ace in the Caribbean pack.
In short, if you knock over Gayle before he gets crucially set, your chances of beating West Indies probably rise automatically by about a third, such is the threat he poses as a result-swayer.
That has already been evident from the infant stages of this event, where England were hapless victims as a Christopher Henry Gayle tornado (100 not out off 48 deliveries) at batting-friendly Mumbai saw the West Indians romp to a six-wicket triumph with 11 balls to spare.
Clearly, the Proteas will have done some intensive plotting of ways to keep Gayle quiet – or preferably knock him over swiftly, finish and “klaar” – at Nagpur, even if coach Russell Domingo seems on the button in suggesting it is better to tackle Gayle and his fellow Caribbean stroke-players on a slow, technique-examining surface like the one at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium than a truer, faster track.
That said, Gayle stays a major threat: as if you needed a reminder, he has previously provided significant, major-tournament angst to the Proteas on Indian soil before.
It occurred at Jaipur in a semi-final of the 50-overs Champions Trophy in November 2006, when Gayle almost single-handedly engineered South Africa’s undoing with an unbeaten 133 (more than half his team’s runs) as they chased down a target of 259 with six wickets to spare.
Gayle has also gone crazy at the crease against the Proteas in the very WT20 tournament previously: who could forget his withering 117 at a strike rate of over 200 at the Wanderers in the inaugural event on our shores in the cool spring of 2007?
The one consolation on that occasion -- and perhaps something to bank usefully in the minds for Friday’s SA personnel -- was that his exploits remarkably weren’t enough then; Herschelle Gibbs played nearly as cavalier an innings in reply (90 not out) as the host nation prevailed by eight wickets.
Nevertheless, Gayle boasts an ominously strong overall track record against the Proteas in T20 combat; the six matches he has played against them have seen him lash 303 runs at an average of 50.50 and strike rate of 195 – he scores more quickly against South Africa than any other major power, as Australia are next most expensive recipients of his carnage (strike rate 159 against them).
He will also have healthy memories of his most recent T20 activity against SA – successive scores of 77 at Newlands and 90 at his beloved “Bullring” again in the mini-series victory by the touring Windies last season.
Gayle has scored 1,506 T20 international runs in total from 47 games, at a rather lower average of 37.65.
But the powerful southpaw has had his plundering times against the Proteas in the other two formats as well.
At Test level, he averages 45.30 against them from 16 encounters, which is higher than his overall career average in five-dayers of 42.18, albeit helped by one monster knock of 317 on an abject Antiguan featherbed in 2005 (though his personal best remains 333 against Sri Lanka).
It is probably at ODI level, then, that South Africa have best kept the flamboyant customer in check: he averages 37.33 from a mammoth 269 games, but against our country specifically that average dips to 30.78 (three of his 22 tons have come against the Proteas).
So that is the Gayle stats backdrop, then, and of course the figures will count for just about zilch when SA get in his way once more.
We all know with a shudder in these parts that come Friday, it’s most likely to all be about Chris Gayle’s mood, baby …
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