It perhaps won’t make it to the highlights reel of the Indian Premier League match between Kings XI Punjab and Kolkata Knight Riders in Sharjah on Monday.
Chris Gayle, in the 15th over of the second innings bowled by Varun Chakravarthy, pushed the ball through point off his back-foot. KKR fielder Nitish Rana, strangely enough, followed the ball along the ground instead of making too much of an effort to stop it and send it back. It is Sharjah, after all. You need to be Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers level of crazy to be running two at this venue, right?
Well, not quite. Rana’s effort gave Gayle enough time to return for a second run. Repeat this: Chris Gayle, the self-proclaimed Universe Boss, running a quick double at Sharjah.
Sure, the next ball he ran just one despite hitting one down the ground powerfully and the fielder stopping a boundary as he was busy admiring his shot but that’s typical.
What has not been so, as KXIP made it five wins in a row to take control of the playoffs race, is Gayle’s hunger during this tournament to push himself and, consequently, his team.
Chasing 150, KXIP achieved the target in 18.5 overs losing only two wickets as they have now won their fifth successive match and moved into the coveted fourth spot on the table. And the player of the match, for an innings that came at a moment when the match was evenly poised, was Gayle. A 25-ball half century that completely swung the momentum in KXIP’s favour meant Gayle has now been on the winning side in every one of the match he has featured in IPL 2020.
Here’s a quick look at Gayle’s impact in this tournament so far:
vs RCB, Sharjah: 53 off 45 balls. Took his time, but made sure he hit the big sixes to help KXIP snap their losing run.
vs MI, Dubai. 24 off 21 balls. A cameo in the run-chase followed by a statement six at the start of the second Super Over as KXIP won the match of the tournament.
vs DC, Dubai. 29 off 13 balls. Went after Tushar Deshpande in the powerplay, knowing KXIP needed to target Delhi’s fifth bowler.
vs SRH, Abu Dhabi. 20 off 20 balls. No real impact in this match but his wicket was a turning point for SRH to restrict the Punjab batting lineup.
vs KKR, Sharjah. 51 off 29 balls. Came into bat when KXIP did not have momentum in the run-chase and turned the tables around completely.
What has stood out for most of the tournament is how Gayle has not shied away from running hard between the wickets, something we did not see too much of in the IPL last year or for West Indies. He has had his fitness issues and even when he didn’t take the quick runs, he could hit the ball miles. But with this improved level of fitness, he has looked fresh in this tournament.
“Been training off the field when not playing,” Gayle said after the match in Sharjah, about his running between the wickets. “Doing my runs. Gym. Feeling good. Have a good feeling about myself and the team. Just capitalising on it, but still a long way to go.”
And it was that extra hunger that Rahul referred to in the post-match presentation.
“Chris, it was a very hard decision not to play him at the start of the tournament,” Rahul said. “He is the hungriest I have seen in the last seven-eight years playing for different franchises. Running ones and twos. And you know how he keeps the dressing room upbeat.”
Indeed, as KXIP look like the team to beat on current form, it has not exactly been a one-man show. The 100% win record with Gayle in the side is more coincidence than causation but the impact is unmissable.
Having the world’s best T20 batsman hungry for success, even at 41 years of age, has been a key part of Punjab’s winning run. And now Rahul and Co will want that to continue as a place in the playoffs – which seemed improbable not too long ago – seems imminent now.