Captain Virat Kohli’s stunning return to the team against Mumbai Indians on Friday failed to gloss over the fact that Royal Challengers Bangalore have been burdened with the weight they are having to lug around in the form of struggling Chris Gayle.
It takes 11 to tango in a team sport like cricket, but the mercurial West Indian, along with Australian Shane Watson, has emerged as the weakest link for Bangalore, especially given the absence of Kohli and AB de Villiers as they missed early matches in an effort to attain match fitness.
Popularly known as the ‘Universal Boss’, Gayle has looked anything but in this 10th edition of the Indian Premier League, and also during the Pakistan Super League that was played earlier this year in the UAE. In fact, ever since the 37-year-old Jamaican had his back surgery towards the second half of 2015, he has looked a shadow of his former self.
In the PSL, Gayle contributed just 160 runs in nine matches. He faced 134 balls for that to have a strike rate of 115.1 – considered very poor by his own high standards – and his highest score in the tournament was 44.
In the IPL so far, he has played in three matches that has netted just 60 runs for RCB at a strike rate that is even lower than what he achieved in the PSL – 107.1.
It’s difficult to ignore the past when you are judging a player of the calibre of Gayle. Who can ever forget that unbeaten knock of 175 he hammered in 66 balls against Pune Warriors in 2013, or the 255 sixes he has dispatched into the crowd so far, which is 92 more than the second man in the list of most sixes (Rohit Sharma, 163)?
While completely understanding what Gayle brings to the table, reputation cannot be the only criterion for selection in the playing eleven.
Given the importance of Gayle’s batting position at the top, where he can make good use of the hardness of the ball as well as the restricted field placement because of the Powerplay, it is imperative that he fires. In T20s, the No1, 2 and 3 in the batting line-up need to be your best, and unfortunately, Gayle does not fit into that right now.
It’s not just that he is not scoring runs, Gayle’s running between the wickets has been pathetic. In the loss to Mumbai, there were at least three occasions when any other batsman in the company of Kohli would have taken a couple, but the lethargic movement of Gayle resulted in singles.
And while he did take a couple of catches – of two successive deliveries – there really are very few places where you can put him on the field. In this format of the game, you’ve got to be good in the outfield. It is difficult to remain hidden inside the 30-yard circle for the entire duration of the match.
It really would be a prudent move on the part of Bangalore to rest Gayle for a few matches. They have already lost three matches in four outings so far and a couple of losses more would be disastrous for their first objective of reaching the knock-out stage.
Given that Gayle is already 37, and the back surgery hasn’t made things easier for him, a retirement from the game would not be a bad move. He is a legend, and that image should not be tarnished in these last few years.
Obviously, their hands are a bit tied by the injury-related absence of KL Rahul, who was absolutely sensational for Bangalore last year.
However, this really is a case of believing in unknown angels. The swashbuckling Travis Head could well be the answer to their misery.
Another team that is suffering from banking on reputations, but has somehow managed to win their matches, is Mumbai Indians. Kieron Pollard delivered after his Twitter showdown with commentator Sanjay Manjrekar for calling him ‘brainless’ on air, but Harbhajan Singh (two wickets in three matches) and captain Rohit Sharma (nine runs in four matches) will have to step up soon to justify their places in the team.
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