Chris Gayle is widely regarded as one of the most destructive T20 batsmen in the world. Known for his belligerent batting style and sublime six-hitting prowess, there is no doubt about what he brings to table.
But when it comes to his fielding, there is a lot to be desired. With advancing years, Chris Gayle's athleticism, and subsequently his fielding ability, have taken a hit.
With the game played at a breakneck pace, many feel Chris Gayle is a liability on the field. Despite having a safe pair of hands, his ground fielding leaves a lot to be desired, as the heavily-built Gayle is not as flexible as he was before.
When fielding coach Jonty Rhodes took charge of the Punjab Kings last season, the South African admitted he wasn’t sure what to expect from Chris Gayle. In this regard, while answering a question from Sportskeeda at an online interaction on Thursday, Rhodes said he talked with other coaches about Chris Gayle.
“You know the most amazing thing about Chris Gayle is that it was my first season with them last year in the IPL, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Obviously I had spoken to other coaches who had worked with him and everybody said he is such an amazing influence on the team," Rhodes said.
The epitome of fielding brilliance, Jonty Rhodes has become synonymous with diving around and securing direct hits. Looking back at last year, the South African maestro conceded Chris Gayle had impressed him during IPL 2020.
“Because you can have great players who on their own will win you a tournament or win you matches. But they don’t do anything for the team unity. All the messages that I had from people who had worked with Chris were that he is an amazing guy who is so positive towards the rest of the team. And that was the case,” Rhodes mentioned.
What Chris Gayle lacks in terms of guile, he makes it up with presence. Always an entertainer, there is never a dull moment when the big West Indian is around. Jonty Rhodes was wise enough to use Chris Gayle’s charisma as a means to motivate the players around him.
“What I like to do at fielding practices is I try and make it competitive. So I have teams versus each other hitting the stumps or catches, and seeing what the win ratio is. I always put him with the younger players because the young Indian guys love to be with the West Indies legends. I saw that with Mumbai Indians in the past with Kieron Pollard,” revealed Rhodes.
Chris Gayle’s calm demeanor often rubs off the wrong way, with many calling the West Indian lazy on occasions. But Jonty Rhodes doesn’t agree with the assessment, saying Chris Gayle is someone who always gives his 100%.
“Chris Gayle was superb at that. He is very competitive. He puts on a big show every time he is on the field, whether be at practice or during the game,” said Rhodes.
How Jonty Rhodes coached Chris Gayle in 2020
T20 cricket and fielding, in general, are seeing a proliferation of analytics. Broadcasters are quick to point out runs saved or catches dropped by a fielding side, with a tournament leader board in place to classify teams based on their fielding ability.
With every run akin to gold, fielding is seen as a way to stop the flow of runs or conjure a moment of brilliance to break the opposition’s momentum. Talking about Chris Gayle the fielder, Jonty Rhodes expounded how the West Indian didn’t concede a single run last season.
“But the interesting thing is, I am obviously marking down runs saved versus runs conceded in the game. Last season, he didn’t concede a single single. I think that is important,” said Rhodes.
Chris Gayle can be seen in a handful of positions when he is fielding. At the start of the innings, he is at first slip before moving to short fine leg or third man. Many feel Chris Gayle is placed at third man because the position doesn’t require him to run too much.
Jonty Rhodes, however, has a different take. Admitting that expecting Chris Gayle to dive is too big an ask, the fielding coach discussed how he tries to get the best out of Gayle while fielding.
“What we are trying is to get him as close as possible to the bat. Even though he is fielding in the ring. He is not going to dive, let’s face it. Whether he is standing back or standing in, he is not going to dive. Although, fielding at slip, he did dive and save a few runs, even at short third man and short fine leg,” revealed Rhodes.
One of the biggest personalities in world cricket, Chris Gayle, is impossible to miss on the field. He continues to defy his age, with his antics consistently making the highlights reel. It is this presence, combined with a slight tactical tweak, that helped Punjab Kings taper over Chris Gayle’s deficiencies last season.
“From that point, he was able to contribute to the team because he came a lot closer. Then the players are always thinking, ‘ Man if he gets it right, I am going to be run out.’ Whereas before when he was defensive and used to stand on the ring and just stop the ball, it wasn’t the case of him stopping a single. So I gave him specific roles. When the ball comes to you, you make sure there is no one. Doesn’t mean you have to attack the ball, just come closer. He is a good enough fielder; he has got great hands. So it is a case of, if he is close enough then the batter is not going to take him on because there is a risk that he could run them out,” explained Rhodes.
Jonty Rhodes admitted that he is in awe of the talismanic superstar. He praised Chris Gayle, revealing how he also helps the younger players up their games as well.
“He is a great contributor; he is a great team man. In my practices, I certainly ensure he is the captain of one of the teams because he puts the younger players under a lot of pressure.” concluded Rhodes.
After a season that saw him score 288 runs in seven games, Chris Gayle is set to be part of the Punjab Kings’ top order once again. With his new-found fielding prowess, Gayle is ready to amaze the world in IPL 2021.