If Virat Kohli has to be the cricketer of this decade, Chris Gayle is the cricketer of the 21st century so far.

While Kohli has mastered all three formats, Gayle pioneered one in addition to excelling at the other two.

In Twenty20, Gayle is still the only person to have scored 10,000 runs. He has also made 21 centuries — the second-highest number anybody else has scored is seven.

Last March, I went to the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, where charity Capital Kids Cricket was delivering a course to Palestinian and Syrian children. They had previously never heard of cricket, except for one name: Chris Gayle, the "Universe Boss".


Simply participating in this tournament is a feat because Gayle is one of only two current international cricketers who played in the 20th century. The other is Shoaib Malik, famous really only for the fact that Pakistan keep selecting him. It was 1999 when CH Gayle made his debut for the West Indies in an ODI against India — so long ago, Brian Lara was captain and Courtney Walsh the opening bowler — batting at four and bowling six overs of off-breaks.

This bowling is another string to Gayle's bow, though no archer has pulled an arrow out of his quiver and ambled quite so languidly to his mark: Gayle's dreadlocks are barely ruffled when he bowls.

Still, he has taken 73 test wickets, not bad for an opening batsman, which is 73 more than Kohli, and 165 wickets in ODIs, which is 161 more.

If Gayle's test average of 42 is unexceptional, he had to learn about opening on the job, as there was nobody left from the great West Indian teams to teach best practice. Still, Gayle has scored two test triple-centuries — as only Don Bradman, Virender Sehwag and Lara have done.

If the first was in a bowler's graveyard, like Lara's brace, the second was in Galle and he remains the only visiting batsman to have scored 300 in Sri Lanka, such is the test of stamina alone.

But it is the 20-over format which has made Gayle the Universe Boss — not too immodest a title, considering. County cricket pioneered it in 2003, then the ICC took the plunge with the World T20 finals in South Africa in 2007. In the opening game, Gayle hit 117 off 57 balls with 10 sixes. How's that for a new form of entertainment?

Gayle has since become the boss by travelling the universe to represent franchises from Jupiter Giants to Milky Way Wanderers — or from Barisal Burners and Jamaica Tallawahs to Matabeleland Tuskers and Sydney Thunder — smashing one white ball out of every four to five on average to or over the boundary. Representing Royal Challengers Bangalore against Pune Warriors in 2013, Gayle scored an unbeaten 175 off 66 balls — still the highest in any professional T20 game — with 17 sixes.

If Gayle's impact on the sport is comparable to anyone's, it is that of Dr WG Grace, who dominated the red-ball game, scoring thrice as many centuries as the next man. Love or loathe T20, there is no denying that Gayle more than anyone has popularised it — or that Grace, had he been alive, would have picked Gayle's brain on clearing the front leg out of the way, pointing the toes towards midwicket and powering straight balls over wide mid-on for six.


Given Gayle's contribution to cricket, and the release this week of the dates for India's tour of the West Indies in August — with the two tests scheduled for Antigua and Gayle's native Kingston — it would only be appropriate if the Jamaica test were made into his swansong, on the lines of Alastair Cook's last game at The Oval. Gayle turns 40 in September and has not played a test since 2014 but this would be one of those rare occasions when the individual should be bigger than the game.