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Cricket news - Is Chris Gayle trying too hard to be loved?
"You're looking at a great man. I'm the greatest player in the world. Of course I'm still the Universe Boss. That will never change. I'll take that to the grave."
More and more, Chris Gayle feels the need to tell people how good he is. In February, he said the above before the series against England. Before the warm-up game against Australia, he declared he was the most dangerous batsman Aaron Finch's bowlers had ever seen. After scoring a brilliant hundred in the BPL final in 2017, he said he was "the greatest batsman of all time". As a grown man of nearly 40, he refers to himself as the Universe Boss.
Tongue in cheek? Just having a laugh? Quite possibly. But do these statements point to something else? Do they point to someone trying too hard to cement their own legacy? Do they point to someone trying too hard to be loved? Rather than confidence, do they point to insecurity? After all, as people grow older, the more concerned they become with how they are perceived.
Should Gayle come out of retirement to play the Tests and ODIs against India at home in August as he mooted last week, and should West Indies actually pick him, it will be a final attempt at legacy building. There is, however, a lot to be said for letting a record speak for itself.
The thing is, Gayle has been a supreme player in all formats. Across more than 450 matches for West Indies, his stats prove as much. He has two Test triple hundreds. Only Lara, Sehwag and Bradman can match him there. He has nearly 13,000 runs in T20 cricket, 2,800 more than the next best. He's the owner of 25 hundreds in ODIs, including a double and four over 150. He is a batsman of layers and complexity. His legacy is already secure. But the greatest of all time, as he claims? No.
Gayle is not as self-centred as his grandiose comments might suggest. Guys who played with him from a young age in Jamaica remember him trying to get attention in the dressing room but in a way that people warmed to. They didn't think he was being full of himself. They just thought he was trying to be liked.
There's an arrogance there of course. But his play in one-day cricket, for example, is characterised by responsibility. For all his talk of being the most destructive player the world has ever seen, he actually isn't that destructive against the new ball in 50-over cricket. He sees it off. He bats time. After 23 balls against New Zealand at Old Trafford, for instance, he had five runs. Far from being the irresponsible slogger at the top of the order, Gayle is West Indies' Mr. Responsible.
Those who have played with him say this is par for the course. Once you cut through all the bravado, he is, at his core, a team player. He has spoken in recent times of how proud he is to play for West Indies, how he wanted to sign-off with a World Cup win. He doesn't have to be here at this tournament. He didn't have to play in the qualifiers last year. He has earned enough. He could be chilling on the beach waiting for the next T20 assignment. He was determined to be here, though. Yes, for himself. But also for his team.
Those who play with him in T20 franchise tournaments notice that team ethic in Gayle too. Rather than just look after himself, he voices his opinion on tactics and method. He will sit down and talk with players, giving them his time and advice. At Somerset, they tell the story of him supporting Peter Trego's testimonial at South Devon Cricket Club. He served behind the club's bar during the game and then went out to bat without any pads, smashed a few sixes and then walked off. The crowd loved it and Trego appreciated it greatly.
But love has not always been easy for Gayle to find. He has been labelled a mercenary for chasing T20 money. In 2009, he told The Guardian that he wouldn't shed a tear if Test cricket died, and was hammered for it. He has had run-ins with the West Indies board - although he is hardly alone there - which have kept him out of the team. In 2015, he made sexist comments to Mel McLaughlin in a live TV interview during a Big Bash game. He was rightly criticised and fined by his club, the Renegades.
No matter how thick-skinned Gayle appears, these episodes have scarred him, particularly the incident with McLaughlin which he wrote about extensively in his book. He has spoken before of how hurt he has been at being described as a mercenary. Winning the T20 WC in 2012 and 2016 with a team full of players from his own generation meant so much to him. Reaching 100 Tests for West Indies, too.
With the end of his career approaching, it's human nature to want people to think of the good rather than the bad. After all, his peak as a Test cricketer was nearly a decade ago now. His ODI career has stuttered and spluttered for a while although he smashed England all over the Caribbean in March. His T20 exploits might dazzle for a time but they quickly fade from memory. Hundreds in the Bangladesh Premier League are not going to be what people remember when all is said and done.
That's the context of the mooted return to the Test side five years after his last game and at a time when West Indies, who have just beaten England in a Test series, have found a decent opening pair and don't need him back. It is the context of Gayle saying he will play the ODIs against India, reversing the decision to retire after the World Cup, and preventing the team from moving on with a younger opener who will be around for the next tournament.
It is the context of the "look at me" comments about being the best player ever. Or maybe that should be the "don't forget me" comments.
But Gayle would do well remember what he said on the occasion of his 100th Test on his home ground in Jamaica back in 2014: "The most pleasing thing is that I have made a lot of people happy. I have brought happiness and have made an impact and I am happy about that. To make an impact on other people's lives is important to me. Once people are happy, I am happy."
Through his exploits on the field, he has already done that in spades. He has entertained and he has enthralled. With the bat, he has been a showman. One of the greatest showmen. Even now, crowds buzz with anticipation every time he is at the crease. That is his legacy. It is already secure. He doesn't need to play against India. He doesn't need to try so hard to be loved.
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