Last night, lost a bit in the final day of the first Australia v South Africa Test, was the start of the West Indies’ Test series in Bangladesh. It’s a bit odd as they toured there this time last year as well, but at least they are playing Test cricket and regardless of whether or not Bangladesh should be playing Test cricket at all it’s better this than yet more pyjama matches. Though apparently not everyone realised it was a Test. The headlines today have focused on the fact that Chris Gayle launched the first ball of the match for six. This had never been done before in Test cricket and looks on the face of it like a remarkable and daring achievement. And it is at least noteworthy; it always is when something new happens in Test cricket and 6-0 off 0.1 overs is a nice start.
But it isn’t something to be celebrated as a lot of the coverage seems to be implying. Six runs off the first delivery is good, but that kind of fast start is not needed in Test cricket. As I recently wrote on the Armchair Selector, the aggressive style of opening has not been effective recently. It doesn’t matter if one’s first six runs of the game come off the first ball or the first half-hour as long as they come and the numbers actually show that at least recently the latter is better. Virender Sehwag and David Warner also approach opening like it is a pyjama match and they all average less in the past three years than Alastair Cook who opens the batting properly.
This was shown in microcosm yesterday as well, though it isn’t always. Gayle kept on attacking and was caught trying to hit another six when he was only on 24 and left the West Indies 32-1. It would not matter if he had found a way to get all 24 of his runs off that first ball; that is simply not a good score in Test cricket and if he can’t even get away with it against Bangladesh then that says a lot about the approach. Twenty-four off 17 balls may be good in a T20, but this was not a T20. The scores that helped the West Indies were the 117 from Kieran Powell and the unbeaten 123 from Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Neither of them were scored particularly quickly. If Gayle wanted to help his team he would have played properly, even against Bangladesh. As it is he grabbed the headlines for himself whilst leaving his team in a poor position.
I would not say that Gayle should confine himself to pyjama cricket, but the West Indies should not let him open the batting in Test cricket if he cannot rein himself in. If he must play the way he does, and as long as his counter-productive accomplishments are still lauded then he will continue, then he needs to bat down the order. Let him come in to face the older ball and weaker bowlers. Better still, let him come in after Chanderpaul when there is some balance at the other end and someone to keep the bowlers at bay whilst Gayle hits out. Gayle’s style of play can help the West Indies, but they need to make better use of it than they will get from him opening the batting.
4 thoughts on “Chris Gayle’s irrelevant six”
1) Gayle scored a hundred and a fifty against New Zealand in his first match back, so it’s not like he’s in bad form.
2) He doesn’t generally go out slogging from the first ball, even in T20s he’ll normally play himself in a bit
3) If the ball’s there to hit: hit it!
1) I didn’t say he was in bad form overall, but slogging oneself out for only 24 against Bangladesh is not good. And more broadly speaking the best openers over the last few years are the ones which play conventionally.
2) Going after the /first/ ball was unusual, but he never plays in a restrained style.
3) If you are a middle order player, which Gayle should be, then that’s okay. (Though one still has to accurately assess whether the ball actually is there to be hit and mustn’t force the issue when it isn’t.) But an opener also needs to protect the middle order and see the shine off the ball. That isn’t accomplished by trying to hit everything out of the ground and that’s why the Windies would be better off with Gayle in the middle order. He’s not suited to open.
But you’re missing the point that Gayle does usually start conventionally, his normal way is to play himself in then once he’s in accelerate through his innings. He averages over 40 in Test cricket, mostly while opening, and I can see that average improving over the rest of his career
But my point is that the timing of his acceleration is much more that of a middle order player. An opener should not be accelerating until the shine is off the ball; Gayle never waits that long. His average is 42.21 and Cook’s is 47.84; there’s no contest. And as I pointed out on the Armchair Selector, the recent trend is even more in favour of the Cook style opener.