Chris Gayle runs things in Bangalore
Jamaican star cricketer enjoys folk hero status
BANGALORE, India — The Royal Challengers Bangalore — an Indian Premier League franchise team that represents the region officially named Bengaluru in this part of India — has a handful of prominent cricketers representing it.
Exciting India middle-order batsman Virat Kholi, who leads the team, the experienced Yuvraj Singh, who is back from his battles with a rare form of cancer, and a handful of others represent an aggregation that many believe could have gone all the way in former years to win the super rich Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty/20 tournament.
But though the Indian cricketers may be popular and highly respected, none is revered in this the third largest city of India, like the Jamaican, Christopher Henry Gayle.
A mere mention of Gayle's name to even those who care little about cricket (and there are some of those in India) evokes almost immediate positive reaction. And there are obvious reasons for it, as Gayle has been the team's most respected batsman for the last two seasons at any rate, despite his lukewarm performance at the end of the 2014 renewal, due in large measure to injury and illness.
If a Jamaican were to wear the black, green and gold shirt that represents the national colours into any store in Bangalore and mention Chris Gayle's name, it would lay the perfect foundation for discounts to be negotiated, for those who have the basic resources to purchase items.
"I will give you the Chris Gayle price if you buy anything from me," one vendor said upon hearing a Caribbean accent and quickly pressed forward to ascertain its exact identity.
Young, old, rich, poor, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, they all either know of, or support the Jamaican in their own wholesome way.
"He has made a lot of impact on cricket in Bangalore," said retired Army Captain Manoj M Athresh, who is manager of public relations and security at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore.
"He is a person with a passion to greet people, he always has a good laugh with everyone and people like his personality also, it's not just about what he achieves on the cricket pitch.
"People always flock him for autographs. He is really a friendly guy, I am a huge supporter of RCB," Athresh said.
Gayle, 34, who has represented 13 teams in his 15 years of professional cricket, set the IPL alive last year with a punishing, world record 175 against the fittingly named Pune Warriors, a team formerly represented by another Jamaican, Marlon Samuels.
Not only does the former Excelsior High School left-hander hold the record individual score in Twenty/20 cricket, but has also hit the most sixes in the IPL, the most sixes in world T20 cricket, the first international century in T20 cricket, that having been achieved in the 2007 World Cup against Sri Lanka when he reached his feat off 57 balls, and also set a record in the ongoing Caribbean Professional League T20 championship when he blasted an unbeaten 111 for his Jamaica Tallawahs against the St Lucia Zouks, to secure a seven wicket win on July 12 this year.
Gayle, who also brought up his 100th Test match against New Zealand in a losing effort at Sabina Park last June, is not a Bangalore purist, having first represented the Kolkata Knight Riders, but no one who adores him in this city of 8.7 million inhabitants, India's third most populous city, cares about that.
"He is a RCB man. His blood flows through RCB," said Kamal Bhagwat, a 17-year-old student.
Even those barely struggling to express themselves by way of the Queen's English never spared words in describing the big Jamaican.
"He is an exiting batsman, very exiting batsman," said Ravi Dutta, a 26-year-old who obviously wanted to use the word exciting to describe the former West Indies captain.
"When Chris Gayle plays at Chinnaswamy, I have to go. I love Kholi and AB deVilliers, but Gayle is the six man," said Dutta, also referring to the latter cricketer, South Africa's limited over team captain and prolific batsman who did well for RCB this past season.
Gayle's calm demeanour, occasionally placed under the spotlight with verbal revelations sometimes, like his criticism of the Jamaican government recently, and his hitting out at the West Indies Cricket Board three years ago when he had a dispute with that organisation, would surprise even his most ardent supporter in Bangalore.
Some of them even ask if he is usually so quiet, so for them, the big left-hander hitting out at officialdom is as shocking to them as if they were to see him open the bowling as a quickie in a match.
"He is such a quiet fellow, but quite nice. I have never met him, but everybody who gets close to him always say how nice he is," stated Anil, a hotel worker.
Even the staff at the ITC Windsor Hotel here, have nothing but kind words for him.
"Chris Gayle visits this hotel sometimes, but does not usually stay here," said one of the reservations staff who asked that her name not be mentioned.
"When he comes here he greets all the staff happily and with a wide smile. He usually stays at our sister ITC hotel, so he gets the chance to come here as he likes. He is really nice," she said.
Ali, who manages the Mughal Art Gallery at Kamaraja Road in the heart of Bangalore, went as far as saying that India's international cricketers could learn from Gayle and his attitude to the game.
"I usually watch RCB on the television. He is a really nice player and he has a really good attitude also. He never behaves like India's players who sometimes fight.
"The last time when he played in the IPL he was a little bit not himself, but the year before that he was the star. He is a senior player, a real terrific player. He is very cool and the people love him in Bangalore," Ali said.
RCB playing shirts are often sold in the sport shops, costing between the equivalent of US$30 and $50, depending on where it is being sold.
Fans wearing the club's shirt too are often seen in the massive crowds that regularly trek Bangalore's crowded streets. That practice of showing public support for a team that has failed to deliver the goods, in terms of winning the IPL, is due in large measure to the impact that Gayle has created, one local businessman believes.
"Chris is the one who has kept the Bangalore Royal Challengers name in the public spotlight," said Rukesh Gohar, a textile trader.
"It would be better to see a team winning, than an individual standing out, but when that individual achieves great things and breaks and sets records, then that is equally satisfying," Gohar said.
Gayle, one of the highest paid overseas imports in the IPL, will likely represent the RCB again next year, barring injury.
It is something that the club's supporters are eagerly awaiting.
"We can't wait to see him come back. He is the big six man. He hits the most massive sixes," Ali said.