As Kings XI Punjab hosted Chennai Super Kings at Mohali, captain R Ashwin had a surprise in store for the opposition as well as the fans who had made their way to the stadium.
He revealed it soon after the toss to send fans in collective delirium. “Gayle comes in.” These three words were enough to leave fans jumping with excitement.
Usually, huge roars in an Indian stadium are usually reserved for the country’s star players. It’s only during the Indian Premier League though that this rule is relaxed just enough to accommodate a select few foreign stars. The West Indians sit high up in this pecking order.
The Australians might attract the big bucks from franchises, but no foreign player stirs up excitement in an Indian stadium quite like a West Indian.
From Chris Gayle’s lusty blows, Sunil Narine’s all-round show to Andre Russell’s explosive strike rate, the Caribbean flavour is never out of fashion in the IPL. Just as Dwayne Bravo’s ‘champion’ tune is never far from the lips of most fans either.
But it’s not just the love of the fans, West Indian cricketers are walking the talk. The first ten days of this edition of the IPL has been littered with match-altering knocks from the Caribbean imports.
Kolkata Knight Riders’ Andre Russell is currently the second-highest run-scorer in the IPL with 153 runs from four matches, while his teammate Sunil Narine tops the charts among bowlers with seven wickets in four games.
On Monday, Russell smashed a 12-ball 41 at an astonishing strike rate of 341.66 as his side beat Delhi Daredevils by convincing 71-run margin. And 36 of those 41 runs came in form of sixes, all off the bowling of Shami, who ended up conceding 42 runs after Russell came into the middle. Coming into bat in the 15th over, Russell lifted his side from 123/4 to 177/4 in a span of just three overs.
Later Narine picked three wickets in quick succession clean out the Delhi Daredevils lower order.
It was Bravo, though, who got the IPL off to roaring start as he smashed a 30-ball 68 to steer his side to one-wicket win over Mumbai Indians in the season opener.
If it was Bravo on Day 1, then it was the turn of his Trinidad mate Narine’s turn to take centre-stage the following day. The all-rounder played the role of the pinch-hitter to the tee. Opening the innings for KKR, he smashed a half-century in just 19 deliveries to put his side on course for a successful chase against Royal Challengers Bangalore.
No one, though, can match the chutzpah that “Universe Boss” Gayle brings to the fore. After warming the bench for the first two games, the Jamaican was finally picked to play as Kings XI Punjab hosted the Chennai Super Kings.
Opening the innings, the 38-year-old blew away the opposition bowlers with sixes hit with considerable power and boundaries hit with pin-point accuracy in the gaps. The effort set the base as his side posted a mammoth 198-run target for the opposition. The knock ensured victory for his side and earned him a man of the match award in his first match of the tournament.
Despite their low profile on the international scene, quite a few West Indian cricketers were retained by the their franchises ahead of the players auction earlier this year.
The only two players KKR retained – Russell and Narine – are both West Indian. CSK, used their right to match card to keep Bravo on their roster. Mumbai Indians too used the RTM card to keep Keiron Pollard with the team. Gayle was the only exception. He went unsold in the first round of the auction. RCB chose not to retain his services. Kings XI swooped in at the last moment to take him on board. He repaid part of the trust on Sunday in Mohali. The crowd cheered like he was their own. Playing with a smile on his face for most part, Gayle seemed well at home.
Not many can strive for victory with a smile on their face. Well, except those from the West Indies. That they can do so while notching up eye-popping performances on the field only makes them feel more valuable.