Spectator sport

Meet Chris Gayle, the coolest man in sport

9 March 2019

9:00 AM

9 March 2019

9:00 AM

It can’t be a coincidence that two of the coolest sportsmen on the planet are from the same place, Jamaica. Must be something in the air. Chris Gayle and Usain Bolt have both redefined excellence in their fields. And Gayle’s impending departure from cricket, like Bolt’s from athletics, will have the effect, sadly, of making sport more monochrome, though diehard traditionalists world over will doubtless be glad to see the back of him.

Ten years ago, Gayle (aka Universe Boss) said he wouldn’t be ‘so sad if Test cricket died out’. In the intervening decade he has striven spectacularly to promote the action-packed delights of the limited-overs game, rarely more jaw-droppingly than against England these past few weeks. Until then, we had thought we had become rather good at the game.

If I had ever stuck my helmet on my bat handle and hoisted it in the air, I would have been confined to scoring duties until the end of days. When Gayle does it, it feels like the coolest thing since Marlon Brando took off on a Harley in The Wild One. Or Bolt himself started firing imaginary arrows into the air. Test cricket’s survival chances are just that bit slimmer since Gayle concentrated his immense gifts on a form of cricket our top-hatted forefathers would barely recognise. Meanwhile, England must do something before proceeding from Universe Boss to Universe Dross. Doubtless one answer lies with the fast and guileful Barbados-born bowler Jofra Archer. He has come in for some flak for aiming to play for England but he has an English father and a British passport and the ECB has very wisely changed its residency rules so he is OK on that front.  Besides, with a name like that he clearly has Ambridge connections so must play for England.

If there is one image that sums  up Wales’s epic Six Nations mauling of England it is Alun Wyn Jones — the veteran Welsh skipper who increasingly resembles an ancient but unbreakable oak that has been used over the years to shelter fleeing princelings — embracing the England prop Kyle Sinckler like a father might an errant son. For many of us, and from an English perspective, that pulsating match was all about the Sink — formidable when England held sway in the first half, a liability when he gave away those penalties in the second, and a game-changing absence when Eddie Jones understandably took him off in the final quarter that Wales utterly dominated.

Down our way in south London, the Sink is remembered as the gentlest of gentle giants. He seemed to have been born enormous from the get-go and could shift mountains — or at least most of his class mates at Graveney School — above his shoulders without bending. We look on him with great affection as one of our own, though whether anyone packing down against him in the scrum feels the same way I rather doubt.

Maybe it’s all that ink and ever- changing facial hair, but sculptors seem to have lost their way when trying to replicate football men in stone. There used to be some fine bits of statuary: the 9ft figure of Stanley Matthews outside Stoke’s old ground, a splendid Bobby Robson at Portman Road, and Bobby Moore at Wembley. But recently there have been some outstanding disasters with much derided statues of Maradona and Cristiano Ronaldo. Now a bizarre image of David Beckham has been unveiled in Los Angeles. Still, at least the Becks sculptor produced a better likeness than Ronnie O’Sullivan’s baffling attempt at an Australian accent in a BBC interview. Maybe he wants to have a hat with corks on when his statue is unveiled at the Crucible.

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