PUNE: Chris Gayle is thankful to Virender Sehwag for “saving” the IPL. After becoming the first centurion this season, Gayle gave credit to Sehwag, the Kings XI Punjab team director, for buying him at the very last minute at the auction in February, after the Jamaican had gone unsold twice.
Gayle has now repaid that favour by helping Kings XI win their last two matches, in the process bagging two Man-of-the-Match awards. Having hit 63 against Chennai Super Kings on Sunday, Gayle went one better on Thursday, whipping the best bowling unit in the tournament to register his 21st T20 century.
Perched comfortably at the top with the most T20 runs to go with his record 21 hundred, Gayle made it clear he had no point to prove to anybody. He also pointed out he was not hurt at not being picked the first two times his name was called during the auction. “I’m always determined,” Gayle said at the post-match presentation. “A lot of people might say that Chris has a lot to prove [as he] didn’t get selected or didn’t get picked earlier in the auction. But I can say: Virender Sehwag, you saved IPL by picking me.”
Gayle was happy that Kings XI and Sehwag understood his value as an impact player, but he hopes to outdo Sehwag’s expectations. “This is a brilliant start. Man-of-the-match, back-to-back. Viru said in an interview if Chris Gayle can win in two games, he thinks he’s got his money’s worth. I’d like to have another word with Viru.”
Gayle revealed that Sehwag’s only serious suggestion to him was to work on his fitness and spend time working with a yoga instructor and a masseur. Otherwise, Sehwag only asked Gayle and the other batsmen to play with freedom. Hence Gayle is not surprised that Kings XI have the first centurion of the tournament and the batsman to hit the fastest 50 in IPL – KL Rahul, who achieved the landmark in 14 balls. “From the first game, he [Sehwag] said: ‘just go there and express yourself.’ Within the team, we try to look at three things: entertainment, freedom and everybody should actually be outgoing. We are all proper batters to [be able to] go there and express ourselves. Rahul in the first game, fastest 50 in the IPL.”
Having played in the IPL for such a long time, for different franchises, Gayle said he was well aware of the various conditions and the opposition bowlers and their plans, which made things easy for him on his day. Little wonder the slow and steady approach in the first half of Kings XI innings did not bother Gayle. “You kind of set up a game before you actually go out there. I know how you [the opposition] are going to go about it.”
On Thursday, Gayle admitted in an interview with the IPL website that he paid respect to Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the “key bowler” for Sunrisers. In limited-overs internationals, Bhuvneshwar has got Gayle four times in 10 innings. Gayle eventually took 15 runs off the 10 deliveries he faced off Bhuvneshwar. But that was part of Gayle’s “calculated” plans. He was happy to get momentum later on attacking other bowlers including Sunrisers’ other key bowler, Rashid Khan, regarded the best legspinner in T20s.
By attacking the main bowler like Rashid, Gayle created havoc with Sunrisers’ bowling plans. In normal circumstances, Rashid would have got one over during at death with Bhuvneshwar bowling the final over.
During the mid-innings break when Kevin Pietersen, a commentator with the host broadcaster, teased him saying everyone thought Gayle was too old, he hit back. “A lot of people thought I’m too old. After this innings, there’s nothing to prove. IPL and everyone around the world just put some respect on the name. Simple as that.”
During the post-match presentation, Gayle reinforced that sentiment, suggesting he wanted to enjoy his game while earning further respect. “Time will wait for no one. I am not really here to prove anything. I’ve done it all before. Been there done that. Just put some respect in the name. And all the coaches as well – just put some respect as well.”
Before he signed out, Gayle, even if he was joking, had one final warning for opposition franchises. “Don’t forget the name. Put some respect on it.”