By Sidharth Monga
Has Chris Gayle played his last ODI?
You can never tell until the man himself confirms it – we know that after his retirement reversal at the World Cup – but there were signs early on during the Port-of-Spain ODI that raised the question afresh. He played in a specially made jersey with 301 – the number of ODIs he has played – on its back. He usually wears No. 45. Out of those 301 ODIs, Gayle has represented West Indies in 298, a record that he claimed during the World Cup. During this series, Gayle went past Brian Lara’s career tally of 10,405 ODI runs, the most by a West Indies player.
In what might be a big sign that this is the end, Gayle was greeted by all the India players at the end of his innings. Everybody shook his hand, Virat Kohli did his usual jig with Gayle, and the batsman walked off with the helmet atop his bat handle, accepting the applause from a scant crowd. It did have a farewell feel to it, but it can’t be ruled out that this was just his last ODI in the Caribbean.
Gayle had earlier announced that the World Cup would be his last international assignment, before announcing a change of plans towards the end of the tournament. Even his ODI and Test captain, Jason Holder, only came to know of this through Gayle’s press conference. Gayle said he wanted to play the ODIs and Tests against India, possibly setting up a farewell Test at his hometown Kingston. However, Gayle was not selected for the Tests, which makes it likelier that this might be it.
If Gayle does choose to carry on, his innings today gave enough proof of his continuing worth. He started off with a maiden, but ended up with 72 off 41 in a display of seemingly effortless hitting. This was Gayle at his typical best: 62 of his 71 runs came in boundaries, he helped West Indies make the highest 10-over score for a side batting first in the history of ODI cricket, and he hit five of his eight sixes in that period, also the record for a batsman in a side batting first.
It all began with a free hit in the second over, after Gayle had played the first one out watchfully. After Gayle deposited Mohammed Shami over long-on for a massive six, India had no answers to Gayle’s hitting. The highlight of the innings was a casual drive on the up, off a Bhuvneshwar Kumar delivery that was short of a length, which sailed over the man stationed at long-on for an impossibly flat six. Knuckle balls, offcutters, deep-in-the-hand slower balls, bouncers, all went as if items in a garage sale. Gayle just set up a strong base and swung through the line during the Powerplay overs, sending out a reminder that he was still good enough at this level.
Eventually Gayle hit one too well, sending a low catch through to mid-off off the bowling of Khaleel Ahmed. Kohli, the catcher, led his team in giving Gayle a guard of honour of sorts.
Featured Photo: Chris Gayle acknowledges the applause after bringing up his fifty Getty Images