The greatest trick Chris Gayle played was convince the world he had retired. Twice over.
Now you can never tell until the man himself confirms it – we know that after his retirement reversal at the World Cup – but there were signs early on during the Port-of-Spain ODI that raised the question afresh. He played in a specially made jersey with 301 – the number of ODIs he has played – on its back. He usually wears No. 45.
Out of those 301 ODIs, Gayle has represented West Indies in 298, a record that he claimed during the World Cup. During this series, Gayle went past Brian Lara’s career tally of 10,405 ODI runs, the most by a West Indies player.
On personal front, there isn’t much else left to achieve. In what was a big sign that this might be the end, Gayle was greeted by all the India players at the end of his innings. Everybody shook his hand, Virat Kohli did his usual jig with Gayle, and the batsman walked off with the helmet atop his bat handle, accepting the applause from a scant crowd. It did have a farewell feel to it, but it can’t be ruled out that this was just his last ODI in the Caribbean.
As it turned out, Gayle confirmed at the end of the match in a nine-second clip to Windies Cricket that he was available to West Indies “until further notice”.
Gayle had earlier announced that the World Cup would be his last international assignment, before revealing a change of plans towards the end of the tournament. Even his ODI and Test captain, Jason Holder, only came to know of this through Gayle’s press conference. Gayle said he wanted to play the ODIs and Tests against India, possibly setting up a farewell Test at his hometown Kingston. However, Gayle was not selected for the Tests, which made it likelier that this might have been it.
If Gayle does indeed carry on, his innings gave enough proof of his continuing worth. He started off with a maiden, but ended up with 72 off 41 in a display of seemingly effortless hitting. This was Gayle at his typical best: 62 of his 71 runs came in boundaries, he helped West Indies make the highest 10-over score for a side batting first in the history of ODI cricket, and he hit five of his eight sixes in that period, also the record for a batsman in a side batting first.
It all began with a free hit in the second over, after Gayle had played the first one out watchfully. After Gayle deposited Mohammed Shami over long-on for a massive six, India had no answers to Gayle’s hitting. The highlight of the innings was a casual drive on the up, off a Bhuvneshwar Kumar delivery that was short of a length, which sailed over the man stationed at long-on for an impossibly flat six. Knuckle balls, offcutters, deep-in-the-hand slower balls, bouncers, all went as if items in a garage sale. Gayle just set up a strong base and swung through the line during the Powerplay overs, sending out a reminder that he was still good enough at this level.
Eventually Gayle hit one too well, sending a low catch through to mid-off off the bowling of Khaleel Ahmed. Kohli, the catcher, led his team in giving Gayle a guard of honour of sorts.
At the end of the game, which West Indies lost thanks to a superlative century by Kohli, Gayle once led his side off the field. As he walked off, he doffed his cap to the crowd. Behind him, Kohli signalled to the crowd to applaud Gayle. At the post-match press conference, Kohli even went ahead and congratulated Gayle on a great career. Clearly he had not seen the nine-second clip.
“Chris, I would like to congratulate him for a great, great career playing for West Indies,” Kohli said. “He has done so much for West Indies cricket, and he is an icon all over the world.
“One of the nicest human beings around. That to me is his nicest quality. Everyone knows about his cricket, but I think the kind of person he is – so helpful with youngsters and so fun loving and always smiling, even in the most pressure situations he is always smiling. For me Chris Gayle the person is the best part of him. The cricket everyone knows.
“I have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with him as a friend and get to know him as a person – he is a gem of a human being. I think he can be really proud of that firstly.”
There must have been something for everything around Gayle to look like it was a farewell match. The opposition’s gesture, his own walk off with the helmet atop his bat, the standing ovations, the camera lingering on him, and his own board’s media wing asking him that question.
This cannot be an easy situation to be in. Competitive cricket is something Gayle has done and known practically all his life. It is an extremely hard decision to make to part ways with that, especially not knowing when it might be taken out of his hand. It is a pressure of a different kind. And yet there Gayle is, answering the question with a grin on his face, proving Kohli’s apparent farewell tribute right even when not retiring.