Cricket’s Disco King still sticking around
Andy Bull in LONDON, England
THE interview starts with an apology. “Sorry,” says Chris Gayle’s handler. “We might have to push this back a bit. Chris has had a really big few days, as you can see.” He waves his arm behind him. I’m wondering exactly what he’s gesturing at when I finally spot Gayle stretched out flat on a black sofa that so exactly matches his outfit (black shoes, black trousers, a black hoodie and a pair of big black sunglasses) that he is perfectly camouflaged by the cushions.
It’s three o’clock in the afternoon and he’s fast asleep. On a sofa. In a hotel lobby bar. While everyone else walks and talks around him. Cricket’s Disco King is taking a badly needed nap. We perch either side and try to carry on a conversation around him. A club sandwich arrives. The waiter puts it down by Gayle’s head. He lifts his neck, heaves a forkful to his mouth and lies back down again. “Hopefully it won’t be long now,” the handler offers.
Gayle is in the UK to promote a new app called Cricket All Rounders. It allows kids to watch short video demonstrations made by Gayle and a couple of other internationals and then compete to see who can best replicate the skills.
Gayle explains that he has spent the past few days on a jaunt around England. “I’ve been interacting with kids, taking photos, signing autographs,” he says. “Oh man, it’s been a lot of work. A lot of work.” We’ve moved to a dimly lit side room. He’s still wearing his sunglasses and I can’t tell if he’s joking.
I’m told we have 20 minutes. Which is barely enough for pleasantries, but on the other hand is also about as long as it took Gayle to score his fifty off 12 balls for the Melbourne Renegades in 2016. I tell him I was going to begin by listing his achievements, the hundred-odd Tests, the two triple-centuries, the 20-year career in ODI cricket, more runs, more sixes, more fours, more man of the match awards than anyone in the history of T20, but it wouldn’t leave us time for anything else. And there’s so much to talk about. Isn’t there?
In many ways, Gayle is the most interesting cricketer of his generation. He has played more than 1 000 professional matches for almost 50 teams, played franchise cricket in 12 countries on five continents. For the past decade it has felt like any time, on any day, Gayle would be hitting somebody for six somewhere.
He describes himself as “the most travelled man in the history of cricket”. The hard part is getting him to talk about it. I figure it’s best to toss him a loosener. So what’s the best thing about being Chris Gayle? “The best thing about being Chris Gayle is that I am very, very, chilled,” he says, stretching out the second “very” for so long I wonder if he’s nodded off.
Gayle says his proudest achievement in cricket was winning the World T20 in 2012 and 2016 “and the, what do you call it now, the Champions Trophy, when we beat England at the Oval.
‘’I’ve achieved a lot of individual stuff. Two triple-centuries, playing a hundred Tests, you know, I could go on and on, but overall I will cherish winning titles. That’s key. That’s why we play the game.”
The rest of it, he says, is fan service. “I just want to stay longer in the game because of the fans. Really and truly. They urge me to stick around as long as possible. That’s why I’m still playing.”
He says he is in negotiations with Cricket West Indies about playing a farewell game this year. He hopes it will be around Jamaica Independence Day on August 6 when New Zealand are on tour there.
The thing is, you and I are likely a lot more interested in discussing all this than he is. He doesn’t really want to talk about his favourite six (“man, there was so many, I can’t choose one”) or my favourite of his sixes, when he hit Brett Lee out of the Oval (“I guess it was my day”). He doesn’t really want to talk about Test cricket. He doesn’t really want to talk about the Hundred, a competition, like the app, that sells itself as being designed to open the game up to new audiences, even though he’s twice been passed over in the draft. “Their loss.”
He doesn’t want to talk about racism, even though so much of the conversation in England has been about whether it is a barrier to entry into the game. The Universe Boss is beyond this topic. “I’m past that stage. I’m not involved with that. I’m not going to answer any questions about it.”
He doesn’t want to talk about sexism or how he feels about the heat he received for making sexist comments (or “simple jokes” as he called them) to female journalists.
It seems we remember that time of his life differently. “I never get in trouble, never, not me,” Gayle says when I ask again how he felt about the criticism. “People got upset? We all have our opinions, eh, we all have opinions.” It was, he explains, just that the papers were trying to sell copies by whipping up a story about him. “The Universe Boss Chris Gayle is a big name. That’s what sells.” Well, quite. The Cricket All Rounders app he’s plugging costs £2.99 a month. He promises it will be a “gamechanger”.
The strangest thing about this increasingly strained conversation is that Gayle somehow still feels like compelling company. He has a charming way of saying absolutely nothing.
What Gayle is interested in talking about is his new career as a musician. He has launched his own label, Triple Century records, and started singing and producing. “Music is in my blood. It’s been my passion since day one. But recording songs, never thought about that one.
‘’It started in the pandemic, just messing around, sometimes you never know until you try. I still got to put an EP out, but I have a lot of tracks out. You need to go check them out. The first track I listen to is about girls going wild in Dubai.’’
He says it was a lockdown project. Watching the videos I wonder if it was one of those that got out of hand, like you or I might have got carried away with sourdough. He says it is all about “spreading the brand”.
And really, what use am I, or any of this, at helping him with that? No doubt he has another flight to catch, another club to visit, another six to hit, another Instagram Live to post, another single to record, another app to launch, another product to flog. I find I have 30 seconds left. “So, ah, what do you think I should ask you with my last question?”
“Ask me what time I’m going to bed?” “OK, what time are you going to bed?” “Now,” he says, and he lies down flat on the sofa again and shuts his eyes. “Sorry,” says the handler again. – The Guardian.