CricViz analyst Freddie Wilde examines how Chris Gayle adapted his approach in the 2017 CPL.
For seven years between 2010 and 2016 Chris Gayle established himself as arguably the first great T20 cricketer. Across 248 matches in that period Gayle scored 8,914 runs at a run rate of 9.14 runs per over (RPO) with a boundary ball percentage of 22.9%.
STRUGGLE FOR FORM
In the first half of 2017 playing for Karachi Kings in the PSL, Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL and the West Indies in a one-off T20 against India, Gayle’s form took a significant downturn. Across 19 innings Gayle scored 378 runs at 7.04 RPO with a boundary ball percentage of 16.2%. Gayle’s struggles were particularly pronounced in the Powerplay phase in which he scored at 6.33 RPO – well below the 2017 aggregate of 7.59 RPO. Gayle struggled to cope with the pressure of his slow scoring contributing to a low runs per dismissal of just 19.89.
When considered alongside his age—he will turn 38 later this month—Gayle’s bad form prompted some to ask whether he was in terminal decline.
BACK IN THE RUNS
In the 2017 Caribbean Premier League (CPL) Gayle opened the batting for St Kitts and Nevis Patriots alongside Evin Lewis—who scored at 11.07 runs per over throughout the season. Lewis’ scoring rate alleviated the pressure on Gayle who assumed an anchor role, providing the stability for Lewis to attack and helping to provide a platform for the likes of Carlos Brathwaite and Mohammad Nabi in the last phase of the innings. It was a role Gayle performed intriguingly, scoring 376 runs at 7.61 RPO—slow by his standards—but still above the tournament aggregate of 7.34 RPO.
Gayle’s scoring rate in the Powerplay phase actually fell from 6.33 RPO in the first half of 2017 to 5.95 in the CPL with a career-high dot ball percentage of 65.5% being the main contributing factor.
Gayle made it out of the Powerplay phase in six of his 11 innings and it was then that his adjusted approach became apparent. After the end of the sixth over Gayle was only dismissed once and scored 232 runs at 9.21 RPO. Gayle’s high runs per dismissal in this period can perhaps be explained by him taking fewer risks—his boundary ball percentage of 16.5% after the seventh over was well below his career boundary ball percentage in that period of 22.1%.
In the post-Powerplay phase Gayle made up for hitting fewer boundaries by facing fewer dot balls—33.7% compared to 37.5% in his career in that period—and running more often—54.9% compared to 46.3%. That intent rather than circumstance explains this running ball percentage increase is suggested by the fact that he ran 19 twos across 11 innings – the most twos he has ever run in a tournament in his career and more twos than he ran in his preceding 55 innings before the tournament.
In Match 22 Gayle scored of 93 off 47 balls against Trinbago Knight Riders with a boundary ball percentage of 27.6% demonstrating—like his 72 (44) against Gujarat Lions in the IPL—that he can still hit regular boundaries. However, his willingness to be an active runner and bat deep into the innings are encouraging signs for his longevity.
BRAIN OVER BRAWN
Perhaps the biggest benefit of this adjusted approach from Gayle is difficult to quantify but was well illustrated by three innings this CPL season when he scored 66* (55), 71* (55) and 54* (51) batting first. To bat through an innings at less than 7.80 RPO seems strange but on all three occasions Gayle guided St Kitts and Nevis Patriots to a winning score on what proved to be a difficult batting pitch. Gayle is one of the most experienced T20 players in history—him setting out to bat deep into the innings affords his game awareness and intelligence longer to influence the match.
It remains to be seen how significantly Gayle’s approach in this CPL was dictated to by the team he was playing in and without someone scoring as fast as Lewis alongside him his Powerplay run rate is likely to be a hindrance. However, at the very least the 2017 CPL has shown that Gayle has it within him to adapt and evolve in the twilight of his career.
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