How closely are Royal Challengers Bangalore's fortunes tied to those of Chris Gayle? Since he joined them midway through the IPL and revitalised a moribund campaign, he has made 25 or less in five matches - Royal Challengers have lost all five. His other ten games have been Royal Challengers wins and he has been Man of the Match in seven of them, and a plausible candidate for the award in one other match as well.
Aren't those numbers pointing to a one-man team? Royal Challengers' captain Daniel Vettori wasn't too concerned about the side's reliance on the West Indian after yet another Gayle-inspired demolition job at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. "At least not as long as he's scoring runs," Vettori said with a chuckle, before striking a more serious note. "We've got a batting order that complements Chris and his ability to strike the ball so well. We saw guys come in today, [Tillakaratne] Dilshan took some pressure off Chris, Virat [Kohli] played very well, [Saurabh] Tiwary is starting to come into form, Mayank [Agarwal] came out and played his natural game, he looks like a sensational player."
Despite their captain's nonchalance, Royal Challengers have reasons to worry. With AB de Villiers injured and out of the tournament, only Kohli remains as a reliable batting performer to support Gayle. Dilshan, bought for $650,000, has a couple of half-centuries though he is yet to put in a match-turning contribution after a dozen outings.
Gayle's extraordinary success has starved Tiwary of time in the middle but in the chances he has had, Tiwary hasn't been able to replicate the form of IPL 2010, which bumped up his price tag to an astronomical $1.6m. Agarwal, 20, has sparkled briefly on several occasions but a headlining effort has eluded him while Mohammad Kaif hasn't convinced too many people he can cut it in the Twenty20 format.
Those thoughts won't be occupying the minds of the Royal Challengers fans who turned up on Monday, expecting more fireworks from Gayle. They were treated to a typical Gayle innings, as Somerset were flattened, in that it was a combination of vigorous hitting and lackadaisical running - his 86 has eight sixes and only two twos.
It wasn't the usual blast-from-the-start Gayle innings though. He began with a carve over cover for four but tempered his approach after a reprieve off his third ball and nearly being run out soon after. By the end of the Powerplay he was on a sedate 15 off 14 balls. "The wicket was a bit damp, the ball was doing a bit, you want to try and get set on this sort of wicket," he said after the match. Unusual words from Gayle, especially in a Twenty20 match.
Regular programming swiftly returned though as Gayle unleashed a barrage of sixes, most of them in arc from the sightscreen to long-on, propelling the Royal Challengers to the first 200-plus total of the tournament. Somerset's armada of left-arm spinners were clueless against the onslaught, with 19-year-old George Dockrell pummelled for three sixes in an over.
Somerset's captain Alfonso Thomas said they were thrown off by Gayle's watchfulness at the start. "Usually in the first six overs he goes all guns blazing but he kept himself back, which was not part of our our game-plan," Thomas said after the match. "We thought he will come hard at us in the first six overs and that one of our seamers will knock him over before our spinners could come in. When he starts going, he will make sure that he is hitting all over. Well done, that's what he is paid to do."
The latest Gayle tour de force has lifted Royal Challengers' net run-rate so much that a win over South Australia on Wednesday is likely to be enough to take them to the semi-finals. Vettori said in preparation there would be an optional training session on Tuesday. "Some guys will train, some guys will have a pool session," he began to explain, only to be interjected by Gayle, who said "and some guys will sleep". If Gayle is caught napping against the Redbacks, the Royal Challengers need their other batsmen to take up the slack.