FB has occasionally been dismissive of the IPL's commercial slogfest that has been taking place over the last 2 months. Too many games seem indistinguishable from the previous one and one soon tires of the big hitting, longing for some guile, some graft and some extended tension when all 3 results are possible and the outcome depends on individual battles of skill and character. It may be that the paying public are sensing this too, for crowds are down and the TV audience is significantly lower than in previous years. No doubt this will lead the organisers to dream up new tricks to titillate the audience next year.
But there is one player who this year has set the tournament alight and has stood head and shoulders above the event. This player also epitomises all that is good and bad about the IPL. FB has mixed feelings about him.
When Chris Gayle hits it, it stays hit - and Gayle has been hitting it. He only joined the tournament late after some injury and contractual issues with the W Indies. But what an impact. In 11 starts he has taken 6 Man of the Match awards. With his dynamism as the top of the order the Challengers recovered from a shaky start to lead the points table on NRR and make yesterday's final.
His hitting has been prodigious. Prior to yesterday's final, he had scored 608 runs at 76.00. His strike rate was 184.80. He had 2 centuries, 3 fifties and 44 sixes. In one over from Pamaswaran of Kochi Tuskers he took 36 off the bat - with a no ball included, the over gave up 37. His bowling is also an asset - with an economy rate of 6.56. Yesterday he egged it - 0 - but took 2 wickets.
But there is a big problem with Gayle. He bats number one and, increasingly, that seems to be the extent of what he bothers about. Gayle was originally overlooked in the player auction for IPL 2011. Controversially he was then left out of the W Indies squad for the home games against Pakistan. There was a story about injury and rehabilitation. But then he became available to Bangalore (as a replacement for fast bowler Dirk Nannes). While his Caribbean team mates have been working hard to gain back some credibility for W Indian cricket, Gayle has lined his pockets, blasting soft bowling on featherbed pitches to the adulation of all, while surrounded by pouting cheerleaders. Nice work if you can get it. He made his disdain for Test cricket clear may years ago. No doubt it has been hard for Gayle to be a true star in a struggling W Indies - what would he have achieved opening with Greenidge at the other end and partnering Richards? But would he even have made that team? Any player has to make the most of an inevitably short career.
Gayle is not the first and will not be the last to harbour illusions that they are bigger than the game. As the rewards become more extreme it is likely that Gayle's attitude will become more prevalent. And the IPL has been one of the factors to intensify this change.
So the final yesterday was set up for the big man. But perhaps there is blind justice somewhere for all Gayle's bravura came to nought as his contribution was just that - nought.