In an ODI between England and New Zealand last Sunday in Southampton Martin Guptill played a blistering match winning innings of 189 not out from just 155 balls. It was a fantastic knock which, along with his ton at Lords almost single handedly clinched the series win for the touring Kiwis.
Yet, with every innings of this sort, the incredible nature of Chris Gayle’s 175* from 66 balls just over a month ago is put into context. It’s been four years since fans got a chance to see Gayle in action in England and whilst his talent at that time was just as recognized, the flock coming to see him this time around may well be a tad larger.
The consistency of big knocks and his ability to hit maximums in any form of cricket means Gayle fever has gripped cricket fans the world over. The prospect of him batting on a flat surface like the one Guptill destroyed the English bowling attack is indeed a mouth-watering prospect, especially for the benefactors of gate receipts at the ICC Champions trophy.
To find out more about the man, I caught up with him at the launch of his new Academy in London. The Chris Gayle academy which launched last week has been set up in partnership with UK based sports charity (Cricket for change), The Chris Gayle foundation and Comic relief, providing self development programs for youngsters with disadvantaged backgrounds.
As is the case with most sports stars the reality of Chris Gayle’s everyday life is rather different from the sensationalized one presented by the tabloids.
Speculation about his accumulated wealth through the various T20 tournaments around the world, and his love for partying is well documented in that domain. Less documented however are his own struggles as a youngster, his recent heart surgery, as well as his unrelenting dedication to his craft.
Speaking at the press conference, a serious side to Gayle was revealed not often seen, with an emotional recollection of growing up in a small community in Jamaica.
“Life was a struggle back in Rollington Jamaica. Luckily I grew up next to a cricket club, and it was a big part of my life and prevented me from getting involved in other things. We didn’t have enough money for a cricket bat, a kit bag nor clothing equipment.. I could go on and on”.
Luckily for Gayle his parents somehow managed to support his ambitions and provided crucial support, which he stated as pivotal in his success.
“There were a lot of talented cricketers there who weren’t as fortunate as me because they didn’t have the support. Thanks to my mum and dad I made it to the top, and I see it fit to play my part and give support to those that aren’t lucky enough to have that backing”
Considering the amount of cricket he played in 2012 and despite a heavy schedule for the 2013 season, Gayle still manages to dedicate some of his spare time to such events, something Andy Sellins, Chief Executive of Cricket for Change was delighted about.
“Obviously, we’re extremely proud and lucky to have the big man supporting us. The self development program we have uses cricket as a hook to motivate and inspire youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
Who better to inspire them than Chris Gayle indeed. Furthermore, his involvement also means kit sponsors Spartan will be providing the best cricket equipment for all academy members. Gayle also hopes to return to the academy at every given opportunity and urged the youngsters to always look on the bright side of life.
“Having also gone through a heart surgery, I can safely say I’ve experienced a lot in life. So when I get a chance to enjoy life and give something back I try and make the most of it, because only Lord knows what tomorrow bring.”
Along with the academy in London an additional academy is due to start in Jamiaca in 2014, and the Jamaican plans to expand the charity work of his foundation in the next couple of years.
Talking to him about his humble beginnings, it was easy to see why he’s so dedicated to this charitable work. This was no PR stunt, there was no formal red tape, throughout the day he casually walked around the academy laughing, joking and chatting to everyone present.
Despite the event being primarily to promote his academy, journalists had eagerly gathered to quiz him about his record innings as well as his thoughts on the ICC Champion’s trophy. Below are a collection of quotes of the day from the man himself.
On Playing in England:
“I’ve played in T20 competitions all over the world. Unfortunately English domestic T20 is one competition I haven’t played, but if the opportunity present itself I definitely give it a go. I love playing here, runs or not you always get a clap (Laughs) There’s a good West Indian fanbase here which helps and I’d love to dominate the competition here.”
On that record breaking innings of 175 off 66 and 100 in 30 balls:
“I never went out thinking I’m gonna make 175 today. In fact during the rain break I told Ravi Rampaul it’s a good wicket out there, 180 is easily gettable and we end up making 260. People ask me how I make it look easy. I make it look easy because I prepare myself mentally and physically very hard. I work hard in the gym, and I work hard in the nets. The difficult part is the training part. When that’s done, I go out in the middle there’s no premeditation I just express myself and it comes naturally. Once you conquer your mind anything is possible.”
On who he likes/dislikes facing as a bowler:
(After short pause) "No one really. On any given day, any bowling can travel. On the flipside they can get you out the first ball. If it’s a spinner I try and gain the upper hand as early as possible."
On Coaching in future:
“Coaching? Wow, I’m sure I can manage it. I’ve got a few grey hairs, I’m sure I’ll be working in some capacity in that field after I finish playing if I get a chance.”
On the upcoming Ashes:
“I’m sure everyone in England and Australia are looking forward to it. Not sure where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing but it’s gonna be a very entertaining that’s for sure. Two top teams competing but England probably have an upper hand being at home, but Australia also have some top players so can’t write them off.”
On the ICC Champions trophy:
“It’s gonna be a tough task for us with 8 top teams competing. We won it nine years ago, and we can use that experience as a positive going into this one. We were T20 champions last year as well, so there’s a lot of confidence in the team. We have a tough group though, Pakistan, India and South Africa. So we gotta face the fact that it’s a huge group. We gotta get off to a good start, first game is gonna be huge."
West Indies play Pakistan on Friday June 7th at the Oval and Gayle will be hoping to get off to a flying start. I’m not one for predictions but have a strong feeling there won’t be an empty seat in the ground when Chris Gayle walks into bat.