April 14, 2017

Why Gayle is the prototype of the pure T20 batsman

The West Indian power-hitter's boundary-centric approach has made him perhaps the greatest exponent of successful T20 batting
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WATCH - Gayle's 175 off 66 balls

A hundred years ago, a revolution was in the offing in baseball. The dead-ball era was about to come to an end. The greatest champion and mascot of the new baseball was Babe Ruth, a strong, larger-than-life power-hitter who played for the New York Yankees, and laid the foundation not only for baseball as we know it today but also for the dominance of the Yankees over the last 100 years. The rules of baseball were changed at the end of the dead-ball era to favour power-hitting.

It would not be wrong to view Christopher Henry Gayle as the Ruth-like talisman of the T20 game. Few elite international players have embraced the format as Gayle has. As he approaches 10,000 T20 runs, he is over 2500 ahead of the next on the list. He has also hit nearly 300 sixes more than the closest competitor. It is not just the magnitude of his records, it is the revolutionary manner in which he has produced those numbers that makes him not just the front runner to be considered T20's Ruth, but perhaps the only T20 veteran who can claim such a mantle.

T20 is now well into its adolescence. For many reasons, it has struggled to establish itself as a sport in its own right, distinct from cricket - significant among them is the absence of a language that describes this new sport's distinctive measures of virtue. Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of the language deployed by professional observers is wholly borrowed from limited-overs cricket and even Test cricket.

A second significant reason is that marketing international superstars who made their names in Test cricket was a central strategy for introducing T20 to spectators, especially in India, the sport's biggest, most consequential market. Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman were offered roles as "icon players" at the start of the IPL in 2008. This meant not only that they were exempt from the auction process, but also that they were guaranteed 15% more than their team's highest purchase in the auction.

Fans, commentators and pundits alike have largely resisted the idea that good strategy in T20 might be different from good strategy in ODIs. Ideas about building an innings, or playing according to the situation (a euphemism for taking singles, which the opposition is happy to concede for a few overs) are still extremely popular. The assumption is that since a variety of situations arise in the 50-over game (where ten wickets are available over 300 balls), the same variety of situations must arise in the 20-over game (where ten wickets are available over 120 balls), and hence that a similar variety of tactics have merit. Fast running between the wickets, "turning twos into threes and ones into twos", and brilliant ground fielding are consistently lauded, despite the fact that the reduced size of the contest makes the big hit a significantly more attractive proposition than it is in the longer 50-over contest, and consequently makes these other smaller plays less significant.

Gayle has devoted the prime of his career to franchise T20 cricket © CPL/Sportsfile

Gayle understood T20 as few other elite international players of his generation did. He made his T20 debut for the PCA Masters XI in September 2005. Since then, he has played in nearly every T20 league in every major cricket-playing nation in the world. Perhaps uniquely among the elite players of his generation, he has done so during the prime of his international career.

He turned 26 in 2005, and was the automatic first- choice Test and ODI opener for West Indies. He appears throughout the early history of T20. He played for the notorious Stanford Superstars and the glorious double-world-champion West Indies. He has appeared most frequently for West Indies, Royal Challengers in the IPL and Jamaica Tallawahs in the Caribbean Premier League.

Gayle's game is centred around his unrivalled ability to score boundaries. No other cricketer in the 21st century has cleared the boundary with the same frequency as him. None of the top 100 run-getters in T20 (at the time of writing, Darren Sammy occupies the 100th position, with 2829 career T20 runs) has matched Gayle's 1.12 boundary runs per delivery faced.

The table below shows the top 25 players who have scored at least 1000 T20 career runs (organised by boundary runs per ball faced), of the total of 437 T20 players who have scored at least 1000 runs.

Of these, only eight have hit 95 or more sixes per 100 fours (most players hit fours significantly more frequently than they hit sixes). Gayle is one of these eight players. A few players have excelled at hitting fours, others have excelled at hitting sixes, but no one matches Gayle when it comes to combining these two skills. What's more, Gayle has achieved this at the top of the order. His 18 T20 hundreds are 11 more than the next best player (Brendon McCullum).

Top 25 T20 batsmen in terms of boundary runs per ball (min. 1000 career runs)
Name Runs Dismissals Balls faced Balls per boundary Balls per dismissal

Boundary runs per ball

100s
Andre Russell 3354 141 2036 4.3 14.4 1.17 1
Seekugge Prasanna 1029 60 631 4.3 10.5 1.17 0
Colin de Grandhomme 1772 68 1036 4.2 15.2 1.16 0
Naved Malik 1111 48 722 4.1 15.0 1.13 0
Ian Harvey 1470 47 941 3.9 20.0 1.13 0
Chris Gayle 9971 245 6667 4.5 27.2 1.12 18
Imran Nazir 2540 91 1704 4.1 18.7 1.11 0
Marcus Trescothick 2363 82 1569 4.1 19.1 1.08 2
Graeme Hick 1201 33 769 4.3 23.3 1.07 2
Alistair Brown 1758 77 1173 4.3 15.2 1.04 0
Glenn Maxwell 3508 142 2227 4.6 15.7 1.03 0
Neil Carter 1535 95 1135 4.4 11.9 1.03 0
Virender Sehwag 4061 151 2747 4.3 18.2 1.03 2
Graham Napier 1206 77 813 4.8 10.6 1.03 1
Jesse Ryder 3136 122 2135 4.4 17.5 1.03 1
Sharjeel Khan 1807 68 1283 4.5 18.9 1.02 2
Sanath Jayasuriya 2317 102 1654 4.5 16.2 1.02 1
Adam Gilchrist 2622 97 1869 4.5 19.3 1.02 3
Paul Stirling 3135 121 2189 4.4 18.1 1.01 0
Richard Levi 4323 155 3017 4.7 19.5 0.99 3
Shahid Afridi 3582 185 2286 4.9 12.4 0.99 0
Kieron Pollard 6953 228 4563 5.1 20.0 0.99 0
Hamish Rutherford 2479 93 1722 4.7 18.5 0.98 1
Imran Farhat 1538 60 1079 4.4 18.0 0.97 2
Michael Lumb 4808 200 3468 4.6 17.3 0.96 1

Gayle is dismissed once every 27 balls in T20s. Of the 25 openers who have scored at least 1000 T20 runs at a strike rate of at least 140, only Virat Kohli has been dismissed less frequently than Gayle, and Kohli scores eight runs fewer per 100 balls. Gayle is one of only six openers to have made at least 1000 T20 runs at a strike rate of at least 150. With the exception of Graeme Hick (dismissed every 23 balls) none of the others do better than a dismissal every 20 balls.

The chart above shows how many balls a T20 opener faces per boundary (four or six) scored, for each over of a first innings in a T20. The first innings is considered because it can be safely assumed that all batsmen are trying to score as many runs as possible instead of playing for a set target. The red line represents all T20 openers. After a quiet first over, the boundary frequency steadily increases during the Powerplay (overs 1-6). There is a steep drop in the boundary rate in the seventh over, before steady improvement to about a boundary every four balls faced in the final over. In Gayle's case, not only does he perform better than average during the Powerplay, he does not let up after the seventh over. If he lasts into the 12th over, he hits at least every fourth ball to the boundary, and he's equally likely to hit a six or a four. Even though Gayle has made his T20 career as an opener, he significantly outshines the average T20 openers in the period after the Powerplay.

When considered by the delivery in the over, T20 openers are more likely to hit a boundary in the middle of the over than they are to hit one off the first or last delivery of the over. Gayle does not demonstrate this peculiarity. Not only is he generally better at hitting boundaries compared to the average T20 opener, he is most likely to score boundaries off the second, third, fifth or sixth balls of the over. He is least likely to hit the fourth ball of the over to the boundary.

One likely explanation for this is that Gayle sets out to score boundaries instead of setting out to score runs. He faces more dot balls than the average T20 opener (despite his overall scoring rate), is not particularly quick between wickets in the way that MS Dhoni or Kohli or AB de Villiers are, and does not seem to be too keen to steal a quick second the way more conventional players are.

Against bowlers who have bowled in at least one Test, Gayle scores at 134 runs per 100 balls. Against non-Test bowlers he scores at 154 runs per 100 balls.

Mohammad Hafeez has troubled Gayle the most among all bowlers, dismissing him five times in 46 balls, conceding 21 runs. His West Indies colleague Dwayne Bravo has bowled to him more than any other bowler, conceding 187 in 124 balls. Bravo has dismissed Gayle eight times.

Gayle's career T20 numbers are formidable. But they ought to be seen as a symptom of the way he seems to see the T20 contest. Gayle plays as an unapologetic power-hitter. He has embraced the franchise era in a way that few other international cricketers have done in their prime. He is, in more ways than one, a purer T20 player than others like Dhoni, Kohli or de Villiers, who might be more readily embraced as T20 icons.

One way to think about the first 14 years of T20 is to compare them to the first 14 years of ODI cricket. Viv Richards dominated ODI records in that era in the same way that Gayle dominates T20 records today. Think of where the ODI game is now. Even by today's ODI standards, Richards' ODI career record is exceptional. It would not be surprising, even if David Warner eventually breaks Gayle's records, if Gayle's T20 career similarly stands the test of time 30 years from now.

Kartikeya Date writes at A Cricketing View. @cricketingview

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  • Jose...P on April 19, 2017, 9:44 GMT

    LAZY GENIUS

    This comment has nothing to do with anyone in this article. Just some philosophical musings.

    .

    If you are an employer, whom would you hire?

    .

    Someone who is a lazy genius?

    Or,

    Someone who is hard working & intelligent?

    .

    I would hire the latter. That is, if I am running a business (that's test cricket); and not a show!

    .

    If I am running a quick road show lasting a few minutes, I may go for the lazy genius who can showcase his genius talents, just to last the short show (close to T20).

    .

    LAZY ELEGANCE

    India has its own breed, who are well known for their "lazy elegance". If I am taking a photograph for the cover of a cricket magazine, or to be inserted in a general article on cricket, the lazy elegant can stay put 'lazily' with the most brilliant poses, till I click a portfolio of photographs.

    .

    Of course, no one may hire a lazy moron; unless he himself is one. Or, someone who sits in an auction with no knowledge of cricket, but still wants to splurge!

  • Sterrick on April 18, 2017, 12:34 GMT

    Babe Ruth was merely the lucky recipient of a bunch of rule changes and field size changes in baseball that marked the death of the deadball era but lets not let things like nuanced discussion get in the way of a really bad analogy.

    Added to that, the stats cited appear either wrong or ignored by the author "None of the top 100 run-getters in T20 (at the time of writing, Darren Sammy occupies the 100th position, with 2829 career T20 runs) has matched Gayle's 1.12 boundary runs per delivery faced." Except for Andre Russell who the table directly below this Claims has a boundary runs per delivery faced of 1.17 and with 3354 runs would be above Darren Sammy's 100th place.

  • adreanal on April 16, 2017, 16:28 GMT

    Yes ADDY1024, but if there were no IPL and no Big Bash, do you think the players would have been so quick to abandon ship and the WICB , or would they have stayed and play to the best of their abilities for WI cricket. I am not in favor of the WICB but each coin has 2 sides....

  • Chris_P on April 16, 2017, 1:30 GMT

    As good as he is with his batting, the negatives he brings to team dynamics far outweighs his batting positives. @MIKEINDEX summed it up pretty well, perfectly in fact. Better off without him than with him.

  • addy1024 on April 15, 2017, 16:39 GMT

    adreanal, respectfully, its time that you people get over the fact that these players chose to make money for themselves than to slave after the WICB who refuse to relent from their crippling conduct towards its players, coaches and selectors. There is no excuse for the Boards consistent mistreatment of so many players over so many decades. Picking on these guys who have made a choice gets nobody anywhere. Enjoy the stats!

  • passionatefan2010 on April 15, 2017, 11:20 GMT

    Gatta Ishant can be a much better basher of the ball than Chris Gayle. Gatta Ishant is a big, tall and strong player but Gayle is a left-hand batsman. Gatta Ishant can hit sixes at will and I mean that.

  • Batuwantudawe on April 15, 2017, 6:18 GMT

    why is baseball being talked about?

  • karanSEHWAG on April 15, 2017, 5:49 GMT

    Well he definitely is the universe boss when it comes to T20s. He maybe struggling for form currently, but the consistency with which he has scored runs at that mind blowing strike rate is something which can't be matched! BIGGEST EVER T20 MATCH WINNER! Though he has been a predator against my team( KXIP ), I Still crave for his match winning innings! Strike back and hit em all over the park BIG MAN!

  • HadesLogic on April 14, 2017, 22:58 GMT

    Another failed piece from Date about T20 being better if it more closely resembles stick cricket. Not to mention another failed attempt at trying to 'learn' from the moronic baseball.

  • adreanal on April 14, 2017, 20:15 GMT

    They should have added that Gayle, while in the IPL is the greatest exponent of T20. What about his loyalty to West Indies T20 and other matches. Yes of course the money. Not saying he should not play for the money, but should have been a bit more loyal to WI cricket that gave him a start. Not withstanding his problem with the WICB, he should still be a West Indian cricketer in action and not in name only...

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