We polled our staff for their picks of the top ten best batting, bowling and all-round performances in the IPL through its history. Here’s No. 3
The Pune Warriors were on their third captain of the season in seven games – Aaron Finch – and he had elected to bowl against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, shortly before rain stopped play in the second over of the match. In the two seasons prior, matches held in Bengaluru around that date, in the last week of April, had been abandoned without a ball being bowled. If someone had told Finch what was to come over the next hour and a half, he might have gathered his bowlers to perform a rain dance; that might have been less embarrassing than what Chris Gayle ended up doing to them.
Of the 22 centuries Gayle currently has in the format, none have been as savagely archetypal as his unbeaten 175 off 66 balls that evening.
Ishwar Pandey, the medium-pacer, was making his IPL debut and had bowled two balls before the rain break, both of which were hit for boundaries by Gayle, drawing confused, almost dumbfounded, looks from Pandey at the pitch and the batter. The mystery would not be solved: when he came back to complete the over, he was hit for three more fours. Twenty-one came off that over, and it marked the start of a competition – Gayle against himself for how many times he could better that tally.
He managed it three times, starting with Mitchell Marsh’s first over, the fifth of the innings. Four sixes in and over the V, punctuated with a four slashed over point, for 28 runs. That over also took Gayle to a 17-ball 50.
It took him 13 more deliveries to turn 50 into 100, brought up with a six off Ashok Dinda just before the first strategic time-out at the end of nine overs. Ninety-eight of those first 102 runs came off boundaries – eight fours and 11 sixes.
In the time between the two landmarks, Gayle acquainted himself with the midwicket boundary as well, courtesy the weakest possible defence against him – two overs in a row of left-arm spin.
Ali Murtaza was the only specialist spinner in the line-up for the Warriors, and he was taken for 18 off his first over. Then Finch chanced his arm. His first ball was to Tillakaratne Dilshan, opening partner to Gayle and struggling on the day with 10 off his first 21 balls. Dilshan scored a single that would bring Gayle on strike. Finch’s next five deliveries were taken for 28 – two of them meeting the roof – relegating Marsh’s 28-run over to second place.
The Warriors coach, Allan Donald, said after the match he hadn’t seen a more stunned set of faces. His cries to his bowlers to attempt damage control were met with silence. How do you stop a man batting on 103 in the ninth over?
Only Luke Wright could manage it: Gayle took just 16 off the 13 balls he faced from the allrounder. Between the second and ninth overs, Gayle managed to score 102 off 28. After the ninth, he scored a mere 73 off 38. That was the evening summed up for the Warriors: their biggest bowling win was to reduce Gayle to a strike rate of just under 200.
Even in that phase there was no respite for Murtaza. He made the mistake of tossing one up and was sent over the roof. That over went for 28 as well, ending with a six that took Gayle to 150 and had his captain, Virat Kohli, bowing at the other end in salute. The only evidence that Gayle was a breathing, mortal human came when he showed concern that a boundary crunched past long-off had bounced over the hoardings to injure a spectator.
For Murtaza there would be no mercy on humanitarian grounds. Gayle was thrown the ball for the 20th over of Warriors innings. Murtaza might have been pardoned for attempting to get one back on his nemesis. Only, he was met with the most loopy, teasing delivery that spun away from him after he stepped out. For one last dose of salt in the wounds, Gayle performed the Gangnam dance. Pandey would be Gayle’s next wicket, bowled with a yorker of the sort Pandey himself hadn’t managed to land once earlier in the day.
“Even they must have enjoyed it,” said Sunil Gavaskar in commentary, suggesting that the romance of cricket, the appreciation of a once-in-a-lifetime event might have soothed some of the pain in the Warriors’ camp. Donald asking Gayle “Why us?” at the end of the 130-run loss provided confirmation that they did not, in fact, enjoy it.
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