Bangalore: Chris Gayle's return to the West Indies set-up after 15 months in the wilderness is great news for all cricket-lovers. Since the World Cup in the subcontinent last year, fans have watched Gayle, the most punishing of left-handed batsmen, ply his wares in domestic Twenty20 tournaments across the world even as the West Indies have struggled to stay afloat in international cricket. With 8087 runs from 228 One-Day Internationals at an average just under 40 and a strike rate of 83.95, Gayle, 32, is as destructive as they come. The three-match one-day series in England will mark his comeback following the amicable settlement of contentious issues with the West Indies Cricket Board.
In a freewheeling chat with Wisden India during IPL V, Gayle, who was the tournament's leading scorer, reflected on his journey, and what made him tick. Excerpts:
People see Chris Gayle as a fearsome striker of the ball who makes batting look ridiculously easy. How do you approach an innings?
I am very strong mentally. I believe your mental preparation is the key towards being a successful batsman. I do that by assessing the game before actually getting into the middle. I have a look at things the night before, assess the team I'm are going to play, think about the bowlers they are going to field and try and play my innings in my mind before I actually step out on the field to get a feel. That's how I analyse things.
Can mental strength be an acquired skill?
I think you can develop a few things as you go along. Having been around for such a long time, you know what to expect. Sometimes, you look at a disappointing moment and you reflect on it and you can work hard and actually improve in that particular area. You have to sit down and view things and talk to yourself and see how well you can improve in a particular area where you think you are very vulnerable. That's the way I view it. You want to get the mind clicking and be in the right frame of mind. That's a good state for me.
How much have you worked on your technique over the years?
Not too much, to be honest. I have not changed too many things. The most important thing is to try and have a firm base - try and have a good balance which is the key to batting. Once you are well-balanced, you tend to score more. And you can also score more all round the wicket. Also, you've got to look at your preparation. You do a lot of gym work and try and improve your strength. You then try and play according to the situation when you actually step out into the middle. That's how I go about things.
Given your seemingly high-risk approach to batting, you still have two Test triple hundreds...
For me, from my Test point of view, actually in all formats, the start is very important. From a Test point of view, I have more gaps, you know. Sometimes, you might take the first couple of overs to have a look but a lot of gaps are always going to be created. That gives you a better opportunity to score even quicker. By the time the field is ready to change with the new ball a little older, you might see yourself reach over 50 runs. You can then pace yourself from there. You are basically in control of your Test innings after that, by the time the new ball finishes. You have seen if not all, then a majority of the bowlers, so you should actually know how to build your innings from there. You can score whenever you want, slow down when you have to. Of course, you have to dictate how to go about your innings in Test cricket. In the 50-over format, it's similar. You use another 2-3 overs to get in and try and get as many as possible. You try and take advantage of the Powerplays. In the first six overs in the T20s, you have to take full advantage of those as well because you have less time to get your eye in. You just try and take full advantage of the first six overs.
How much have you missed playing Test cricket in the last 18 months?
I have missed it a lot, definitely. At the time I didn't get selected, I was just coming off the last IPL and I think that was one of my best phases. That's where I was looking to have a really, really good international career and that was eventually stopped. As an alternative, I have been scoring runs wherever I have gone because you get to know your game a lot better. I could have done some damage. It's cricket, you know, anything can happen, but I still think I could have done some damage in international cricket. Coming off that big IPL boost and the opponent was India as well at home... I had seen all of their bowlers. That would have changed my international career. Maybe it would have gone a notch or two higher. No one can predict what might have happened, but I am just talking about what I felt at that particular time. I am looking forward to getting back.
You have played domestic Twenty20 cricket in different parts of the world. How do you adjust to different team set-ups?
For me, it's very simple because I get along with people very easily. I take to people very easy. It makes it very easy for me to fit in because nothing really bothers me too much. I don't get in anyone's way and set out to do what the team wants me to. I generally fit into the scheme of things, I enjoy the environment. Also, everywhere that I have played, the people and the hospitality have been wonderful and that puts you in a relaxed mood. You feel good, so you definitely play well. These people do so much and they make you feel so comfortable that you want to go out there and deliver. That's how it has been for the last few months.
How do you see yourself - as a cricketer or as an entertainer?
I started off as a cricketer and then became an entertainer, so I am definitely both. I can entertain both on the field and off it. You just need to adapt to the situation.
How closely do you have to monitor your congenital heart condition?
It's definitely something that I have to keep an eye on. From time to time, you've got to keep checking up on these things. The heart is not something to play with. Even before I came over for the IPL, I did some check-ups and everything was fine. The important thing is that you don't want to be worrying too much. The problem usually is when over-anxiety kicks in. With a lot of physical activity, you have to monitor the heart as you go on, which I have been doing. It is coming on very nicely.
R Kaushik is Deputy Editor at Wisden India