Derek Pringle is always prepared to listen to players who go off-message but feels that Chris Gayle has gone too far this time
Which of these characters, and they have all been played by the man himself, is the real Chris Gayle?
Is he the ‘Universe Boss’ who thinks that only the laws of nature apply to him? Or the Six Machine (thin euphemism this) of his book title, who clearly believes women should be on tap whenever he pops the question? Or is he the Darth Vader-like batsman, who has made the world’s best bowlers tremble, though perhaps not as much as they once did?
All three have been given regular airings these past few months, with a fourth Gayle also emerging from his recent book – that of the misunderstood nice guy.
Most of us only see sportsmen like Gayle when they perform in their rarefied world, so we are shocked when they don’t observe the rules that govern most of us in Civvyland. But should we be? Is Gayle really so different from other rich, famous and pampered sportsmen, or does he just have the arrogance and thick skin to air his prejudices?
As a man, Gayle certainly appears to be a throwback to a more atavistic time. As a cricketer, he just happens to play in a era awash with T20 money – a combustible mix where he and modern mores are concerned. For those who enjoy social gaffes as spectator sport, Gayle has provided some rich entertainment of late, certainly more than he has for Royal Challengers Bangalore, his franchise in the ongoing Indian Premier League, for whom he has scored 151 runs in nine matches.
Gayle and T20 cricket are synonymous. His hit-the-ball-hard-and-often attitude, achieved through superb hand-eye coordination with scarcely any lip service to technique, is perfectly suited to the format.
Twenty overs in the field are about right for him too, given that he only ever seems to break into a trot when leaving the pitch to get his glad rags on to go liming.
He and the shortest format seem perfect for one another. For an unenthusiastic Test batsman to be suddenly paid millions to give “de ball a good lickin”, is a symbiosis from fantasyland. Yet the snug fit has begun to chafe, with runs drying up and his Big Bash League club refusing to re-employ him following a second ill-advised foray into sexual politics with a female journalist.
This latest clanger, with an interview in The Times full of lewd innuendo, was the final straw. In a forthright but caricatured performance of a male chauvinist, Gayle tells the interviewer, among other things, that he has a very, very big bat before allegedly asking her if she is into threesomes.
His effective ‘sacking’ by the Melbourne Renegades comes a month after James Sutherland, Cricket Australia’s chief executive, had said that Gayle would not be barred from playing in the tournament despite making inappropriate comments to another female reporter, this time during a pitchside interview while playing for the franchise. Sutherland thought an outright ban from the league a slippery slope to go down.
That initial incident, with TV journalist Mel McLaughlin, involved Gayle asking her out for a drink on camera and then telling her: “Don’t blush baby.” McLaughlin later said that it was unacceptable that she was made to feel uncomfortable in her workplace.
But does that mean she would have found his comments reasonable had he delivered them off camera, or after the game? I’m not suggesting the answer would be yes, but if it was, you could see how Gayle, a man brought up in machismo-obsessed Jamaica, might have got it wrong.
Not that upbringing should excuse his behaviour. It is always wise for visitors to respect the cultural differences of foreign places, something Gayle must surely have recognised during previous stints in Australia’s Big Bash.
And yet, even that line can get blurred as with the female tourists who I met in Peshawar 20 years ago. Wearing western clothes and with hair hanging free, they had been molested by wandering hands while browsing in the market there. By not covering themselves in the traditional manner expected of women in that part of Pakistan, they had broken local taboo. Naturally, sympathy was extended towards them, but it was not universal among those who heard their story.
Even with that sliver of devil’s advocacy, you would have thought Gayle might have trodden carefully when Charlotte Edwardes interviewed him for The Times. But Universe Bosses are either forgetful or impervious to criticism, for he weighed in with even more damning comments than before, comments that he later claimed were meant as a joke.
Controversy is nothing new to Gayle. On his first tour to England with West Indies in 2000, he was one of several newcomers felt to have been disrespectful to senior players. He’s also had run-ins with his paymasters over the years, having been dropped from the West Indies side for 18 months in 2010 and almost left out from the Stanford Twenty20 for $20 million, a controversial junket in 2010.
Allen Stanford, an unsavoury conman, even accused Gayle of having an affair with Andrea Stoelker, his fiancée. It is an episode that he expounds upon in his book, patois to the fore as he denies the claims. He does his book to settle a few scores, mind, trying to humiliate anyone who has bad-mouthed him or been critical of him, including Chris Rogers and Andrew Flintoff.
As someone who has listened to hundreds of bland comments from leading cricketers at press conferences, I prefer players who are controversial and go off-message, though not this degree of offence.
Of course, Gayle wouldn’t catch people’s attention with a catchphrase like “See ball, hit ball”, so it could simply be a publicity gambit for his book. Unless it’s a bestseller, though, he’d be wise to revert to that simpler message and let his bat, the standard-sized one, do his talking.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday May 27 2016