10,081 and counting …
Long lost now, deep in the scrapheap of discarded ideas, the International 20:20 was supposed to be a champions’ league between the world’s six best club teams. It was held at Grace Road at the very tail end of the 2005 season. Somerset and Leicestershire represented England. Australia, New Zealand and West Indies weren’t even running domestic T20 competitions yet, so the only overseas teams who turned up were the Chilaw Marians, the Faisalabad Wolves and the Nashua Titans. That left one slot free, so a ragtag PCA Masters XI was roped in to make up the numbers. They were an unlikely lot, with Phil DeFreitas in the middle order and Martin McCague as a specialist No7, who didn’t bowl a single delivery in the tournament. But the selectors did get one thing right. They had Chris Gayle opening the batting.
These were the very first T20 matches of Gayle’s career. He didn’t actually get to bat in the first two of them because they were rained off and settled, in the end, by a bowl-out in front of 50 fans at Grace Road’s indoor cricket school. But he made 11 off 10 balls in the third. Eleven years, seven months, one day, and 743 sixes later, Gayle has just become the first man to make 10,000 runs in T20 cricket. He did it while he was batting for the Royal Challengers Bangalore against the Gujarat Lions at Rajkot last week, during an innings of 77 off of 60 balls. It was, Gayle said afterwards, something he had been especially anxious to achieve, which likely means he felt as worried about it as the rest of us might be about making it out of bed in the morning.
“I just want to thank the fans and all the franchises where I have actually played around the world,” Gayle said. Sadly, he didn’t have time to list all 18 teams, from the PCA XI, to the Barisal Bulls, AKA the Barisal Burners, the Chittagong Vikings and the Dhaka Gladiators, Jamaica and the Jamaica Tallawahs, the Karachi Kings and the Kolkata Knight Riders, the Lahore Qalandars, the Lions, the Matabeleland Tuskers, the Melbourne Renegades, the Royal Challengers, Somerset, the Stanford Superstars, Sydney Thunder, Western Australia, and, yes, “even playing for West Indies as well,” as he said himself, “at the end of the day, they have actually played a part in this 10,000 runs as well.”
For the past 12 years, Gayle has been on a never-ending tour, running a roving revue from town to town and ground to ground. He’s become a peripatetic cricketer, an itinerant six-hitter, for hire to anyone who can afford him. And along the way he’s racked up some remarkable numbers. Gayle dominates the T20 record books much as Don Bradman does most others. He’s scored 10,081 runs. The next best is Brendon McCullum, with 7,635. Gayle’s made 18 centuries, when AB de Villiers, Kevin Pietersen, Virat Kohli and McCullum don’t even have that many between them. He’s scored several more fifties and struck dozens more fours and, no joke, a couple of hundred more sixes than any other player.
In fact, Gayle has single-handedly hit more sixes in T20 cricket than the entire Indian team have managed in every T20 international they’ve ever played. Never mind that. Gayle has single-handedly hit more sixes in T20 cricket than the entire Indian team and the entire Sri Lankan team have managed in every T20 international they’ve ever played, when you add the two together. He’s also hit the largest century ever made in T20 cricket, the fastest century ever made in T20 cricket, scored the most runs in a calendar year in T20 cricket and won the most man of the match awards in T20 cricket, 47 altogether. There are a couple of records he doesn’t have. Among the 51 players who have played in more than 200 matches, Gayle’s average is second only to Kohli. Among the 49 who have scored at least 4,000 runs, his strike rate is second only to Kieron Pollard.
These records will be beaten. Sometime, not soon, someone else will score many more than 10,000 runs. But Gayle will always go down as the man who got their first. Which matters in cricket. It has done since England erupted when WG Grace became the first man to score a hundred 100s, an event celebrated with a series of banquets and a national testimonial that raised the equivalent of several million in today’s money. Certainly, being first seemed to matter to Gayle. “I’m glad to get that sort of achievement,” he said, “It’s a privilege to actually be the first person to get there.” Or as he has it in his autobiography: “The Tsar of T20, the boss of the boundary boards. I’ve been called a pioneer, and I’ll take that word, even though I’d put it another way: I’m a legend.”
But, much as Gayle would like to think it, “legend” isn’t a title you give yourself but is one bestowed upon you. And while he’s earned it, you wonder whether the fans in Somerset, Chittagong, and Matabeleland have even noticed what he’s just done. His deeds have been for so many different teams that he seems to belong both to everyone and no one. And a week later, the world has already moved on. In the time since, another great batsman passed a milestone of his own. Younis Khan scored his 10,000th run in Test cricket. Now, 12 men had already done this but Younis was the first from Pakistan – and his achievement will resonate with their fans in a way that Gayle’s, spread so thin between so many sides, hardly can.