Never has a batsman attracted so much attention as Chris Gayle is doing every day ever since he struck that fabulous 30-ball century and a world record 66-ball 175 not out for Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Chinnaswamy Stadium on April 23. Gayle has sent every cricket pundit in a tizzy as teams ponder over methods to contain this left-handed Jamaican, who has been in extra-ordinary touch in Indian Premier League 2013.
Mumbai Indians are worried that another Gayle-storm could strike their shores as Bangalore take on Sachin Tendulkar and Company in a much-awaited IPL contest on Saturday night. Head-to-head, both teams are level 6-6 (win-loss) but RCB seems to have got the momentum this time, courtesy Gayle's rollicking form.
Bangalore have two of the top three IPL 2013 run-getters, with Gayle leading the charts with 432 from eight games. RCB skipper Virat Kohli is third best – 333 from eight matches – while Chennai's Mike Hussey is second with 350 runs from seven games. Mumbai have two – Rohit Sharma (264) and Dinesh Karthik (263) – in the top 10, but the onus will be on the bowlers to contain the deep and effective RCB batting on Saturday.
In an interview to Mid-Day, Mumbai's Ranji Trophy-winning captain Milind Rege says Lasith Malinga is the only hope. "The kind of form Gayle is in, it is very difficult to stop him. He's not slogging like other batsmen. He is playing very smart cricket; he is taking his time in the middle and waiting for the right opportunity. I think only Malinga can stop Gayle with his toe-crushers," Rege said.
But Sunil Gavaskar feels, batsmen like Gayle have "figured out" bowlers like Malinga. "He is batting deeper from the crease or standing a little ahead to meet the ball as and when he wants to strike it," explained Gavaskar, adding: "Gayle is in no hurry whatsoever and mixing his game very well."
Almost everyone is suggesting a "ploy", but will they work?
Mid-Day quotes former India skipper and Mumbai stalwart Ajit Wadekar saying Mumbai can't afford to be defensive against Gayle. "Mumbai have to attack from the first ball and hope to dismiss him within four to five overs. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to contain him. You have to get him out early. Nothing else can work," said Wadekar.
Wadekar felt bowling an outside off-stump line without giving too much width could work. "Gayle uses a slightly heavy bat so it would be a little difficult for him to play on the off-side. He is very strong on the leg-side and in front," he said. But, interestingly, some of Gayle's best sixes have come over cover and extra-cover!
Lalchand Rajput, who coached Mumbai Indians in the first season, said it is important to keep Gayle away from strike. "The key is to frustrate him. Once you are successful in doing that, you can hope he throws his wicket away. Otherwise, it is very difficult to stop Gayle from exploding. The bowlers should not allow him to free his arms," said Rajput.
While Gayle's face rarely shows signs of frustration, plans can be clubbed for a six if the Jamaican once again finds the timing and power on a batting-friendly Wankhede wicket. So far, Malinga has been a super flop this season. Will he strike on a big day? Mumbai will surely have a prayer on their lips on Saturday evening.
Gavaskar says put fielders in the stands. Viv Richards suggests give spectators helmets. Chris Gayle has sent everyone in a tizzy ahead of Royal Challengers Bangalore's upcoming match against Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede Stadium on Monday.