‘The Universe Boss is still here and still alive’: Eyes wide open, Chris Gayle enters Club 10,000

Kushal Phatarpekar

A lot has happened in the cricketing world on April 18. On this day, in 1986, Javed Miandad smashed a last-ball six in Sharjah to lead Pakistan to a famous win over India. In 1994, Brian Lara smashed a then record-breaking 375. Nine years ago, Brendon McCullum gave the Indian Premier League a dramatic start with a remarkable 158 not out in the tournament’s first-ever game. On Tuesday, on the same date, Chris Gayle became the first-ever cricketer to score 10,000 runs in Twenty20 cricket.

April 18 has indeed been a special day for cricket. With new records beckoning and old expectations to live up to, T20 cricket’s original stars who stepped to the plate. Its been nine years that Gayle and McCullum have wowed the collective minds of fans in the IPL.

They made the special day count. While Gayle finally completed 10,000 runs in the sport’s shortest format, McCullum turned back the clock and gave a glimpse of his momentous innings nine years to the day, when he ensured the success of the IPL on its opening night.

Backed by their respective sides – Royal Challengers Bangalore and Gujarat Lions – Gayle and McCullum amassed a combined total of 405 runs on the night.

While Gayle stole the limelight with his record-breaking feat, McCullum was not too far behind and gave a gentle reminder that after Gayle he remains the second highest run-scorer in cricket’s briefest format with 7,596 runs.

The battle between T20’s original stars – Gayle and Baz

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Three runs short of completing 10,000 runs, Gayle began cautiously. He completed the record with three singles and then marked the celebrations with a few pyrotechnics of his own. They did not finish too though, and kept coming at a rapid rate. He smashed 77 off just 38 deliveries as he put RCB on course for a big total. With seven sixes and three boundaries, it was “Universe Boss”, a title he has bestowed on to himself, at his very best.

Gayle now leads the run-getters list in the T20 cricket with a commanding 10,074 runs, scored since he made his debut in the briefest format of the game in 2005. Its taken him 290 games to reach the figure.

As he has been over the course of the last decade, McCullum was up to the task, ready to match anything that Gayle could throw up. With a target of 214 to chase, a special innings was essential. The unbeaten innings of 158 was being played through the build up of the game.

What could McCullum conjure up nine years after he had left the cricketing world shocked in awe with his incredible knock for Kolkata Knight Riders, which ensured IPL would be an instant hit? Nine years later, the opponents remained the same, RCB, but his own team was different. The batsman and person, though, were the same. While he could not quite replicate that incredible knock, it was a vintage McCullum show. The Kiwi scored 72 runs off 44 balls, including seven sixes and two boundaries, scored at a strike rate of 163.63.

He showed his full range. The flat sixes that he’s famous for on the small New Zealand grounds, came plentiful at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Rajkot.

It was that kind of a day. The runs poured. Sixes and fours flew in thick and fast, and a large chunk of it came off the bats of Gayle and McCullum. In the end, it was Gayle’s knock that proved to be decisive as Gujarat’s chase fell apart after McCullum’s departure.

It summed up quite perfectly the journey the two of them have taken side by side, especially in T20 cricket. Both are the original champions of the shortest format. Both played their first T20 games in 2005. It is after their initial bursts that others followed suit.

A score of 158 was unthinkable when McCullum scored it in just 73 deliveries in the 2008 IPL opener. It all changed in 2013, though, when Gayle smashed an unbeaten 175 in just 66 balls for RCB against Pune Warriors. If McCullum had set the marker, Gayle trounced it and raised the bar so much higher. If McCullum has scored 10 fours and 13 sixes in his knock, Gayle slammed 13 fours and 17 sixes in his.

On Tuesday, in the context of the match, it was Gayle who set the marker and McCullum looked to match it. McCullum matched Gayle seven sixes with a seven of his own. While Gayle hit five boundaries, he scored two. He made up for the deficit with the many singles and twos he ran, which the Jamaican giant, understandably chose to avoid for much of his innings.

It was the strike rate that made the difference. At an astounding 202.63, Gayle towered over the rest. Gayle was disdainful towards the bowlers. His stand-and-deliver technique stretched through the game. McCullum could only manage to score at a rate of 163.63. The “Universe Boss” was a few lengths ahead of him.

Like his compatriot Usain Bolt does on the track, Gayle always finds enough juice to scream ahead of his nearest competitors. It’s uncanny, but Gayle has outpaced everyone by a fair margin over the years, including McCullum. At top of the heap with 10,074 runs, Gayle is 2,478 runs ahead of the next-highest run-getter in the T20s – McCullum at 7,596 runs. Gayle has scored 18 hundreds in T20s from 290 matches. McCullum has the next best tally – seven – from 272 games. Gayle has smashed 743 sixes in T20 cricket, 284 more than the next-highest – Kieron Pollard, who has 459.

Gayle joins an exclusive club of one

On Tuesday, he became the only batsman to score 10,000 runs in the format. He smashed a half-century soon after and soaked up the acclaim with all his usual ebullience, dancing and gyrating. He play-acted sprinkling gold-dust. May be it is something a “Universe Boss” does, the modalities were a little unclear.

“I like that name [Universe Boss],” Gayle said after the game. “Fans want to watch Chris Gayle, it’s been fantastic. A special occasion to reach 10,000 runs. People still looking out for Chris Gayle. The Universe Boss is still here and still alive.”

Its not been all smooth sailing for Gayle, who admitted to have altered his stance as one of the reason behind his continued success in the shortest format. “A lot of guys spoke to me about my stance,” the 37-year-old said. “Even Shaun Pollock spoke to me about my stance. You’re never too old to learn.”

It has hardly been fun and games this season for Gayle. Before Tuesday’s game, it was unclear if he would even get a place in the playing XI. He has now been dropped from the playing XI twice in six games. It was only a last-minute decision by De Villiers to skip the encounter that helped Gayle get a start and he made most of his opportunity.

Skipper Kohli, who is known run a tight ship, was effusive in his praise. “Chris took his opportunity beautifully. When he’s batting like that, it allows me to bat through the innings, and I can chip my way out. We thought we were 30 runs above par.”

A marauding Gayle has always augured well for RCB. After three failed outings, Gayle finally came good and led the side to their first 200-plus score of the season. It also gave RCB their first win after two losses at home. They were at the bottom of the table when the game began. When it ended, they rose to sixth, in touching distance of a play-off berth. Like Gayle said, still here and still alive.