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By Siddhartha Vaidyanathan
Of the 12 sixes Chris Gayle hit at the CAA Centre on Monday, during the course of his 54-ball 122, only two stayed within the arena. The ten others soared over the stands and disappeared from sight – threatening parked cars, bystanders, security personnel, and the food in the stalls outside. Balls vanished into trees and bushes, and the umpires needed to call for replacements. It will come for no surprise if, during Gayle’s next innings, ball boys are stationed outside the arena. If not, Gayle may deplete the whole stock Kookaburra balls by himself.
Earlier in the day, during the first match of the day, Canadian batsman and Toronto Nationals opener Rodrigo Thomas struck a six made memorable when the ball broke the glass window of one of the corporate enclosures. His captain Yuvraj Singh sent a ball high, towards the media enclosure – and how the glass didn’t shatter this time remains a mystery. On Friday, Umar Akmal sent a ball into the stands that called for rapid action from a spectator. On Sunday, Shahid Afridi sent fans scurrying for safety with his powerful strikes. All of this is expected at a relatively small ground. Vigilant cameramen. Security personnel keeping an eye on the ball. And the ball boys, dotting the boundary line, watching out for flat hits in their direction.
Chris Gayle’s mission, it seems, is to eliminate risk for everyone. The ball is not as much struck as it is launched high and distant. Most of the sixes he smashed today were over 80 metres (according to the numbers put out on TV). Two traveled 87 metres. One went 89 metres. And one 93 metres. Each was a whole-hearted expression of Gayle’s muscularity and big-hitting technique – as if he was telling the photographers each time: click away. If ever there is a statue for Chris Gayle, it has to be one with his legs wide apart, his bat picking the ball from way outside off and slamming a six over the roof at midwicket. That’s an image that would convey so much of his appeal.
“I never liked maths at school,” starts a chapter in Chris Gayle’s autobiography Six Machine. “It wasn’t the subject for me. The only bit I loved was the six times table. One six is six. One six is not enough. Two sixes are 12. Three sixes are more like it. Four sixes are 24. Five sixes is proper hitting. Six sixes is World Boss.”
Gayle goes on to talk about how, when he hits sixes, he is effectively directing the spectators to dance to his tune. “You know from the crowd reaction how you are performing and how you’re hitting sixes, and you know like a conductor how to raise and sway the noise.”
There is an entire subculture of stories around Gayle’s sixes, from all around the world, across tournaments and series. Years ago, in Bangalore, a ball he blasted into the stands injured a 11-year-old girl in the nose. On learning what had happened, he made his way to the hospital to say sorry. The girl told him to not worry, and simply continue to hit sixes. At the next Royal Challengers Bangalore home game there were placards that screamed: “Please break my nose, Chris”.
In 2015, when playing for Somerset at Taunton, Gayle sent a ball into the adjoining River Tone. The ball was bobbing up and down on the surface… when a fan took off most of his clothes, jumped into the river and retrieved it onto the banks. He later met Gayle and told him what he had brought back. Gayle not only signed the ball, he went on to meet the man for a drink.
Gayle has currently hit 941 sixes in T20s. He has thundered sixes for teams as diverse as Balkh Legends, Matabeleland Tuskers, Rangpur Riders, Lahore Qalandars and Jozi Stars. He has done so across continents, in grounds big and small, against elite bowlers and not so elite bowlers, in front of packed houses and empty stands.
A distant second on the list – as distant as Steve Smith’s Test average is from Don Bradman’s – is Kieron Pollard, with 607 sixes. Brendon McCullum, now retired, is third with 485. Shane Watson has 431. The rest have under 400.
There will come a time in the next few months when Gayle will hit his 1000th T20 six. Among the records he will leave behind, this one will likely endure the longest. It may also be the one that cements his legacy.