Gayle force onslaught first began brewing at Worcestershire’s New Road

Chris Gayle

Chris Gayle is a man who likes to make an impact but as Stephen Moore walked over to his hulking opening partner in September 2005, this wasn’t quite the one he was expecting.

“It’s probably the most frightening moment of my career,”
says Moore.

“He had that heart problem and he collapsed on me when we
were playing Essex. Goughie (Darren Gough) was bowling and he pulled out of his
shot and called me over.

“Then he just fell on me. I mean he’s a big guy. It probably
took him about 10 seconds before he came round and it was really frightening
because it just came from absolutely nowhere.”

Gayle would undergo heart surgery in Australia to treat the
problem later that year, with the doctors Down Under diagnosing the West Indies
dasher with a hole in the heart.

And despite the obvious concern of those watching on at
Chelmsford, Gayle actually returned to the crease just over an hour later,
ultimately scoring 44 from 58, which was sedate going for a man who was about
to turn global scoring rates on their head.

Having joined Worcestershire as a last minute replacement for South African Zander de Bruyn in mid-August, though, the then 25-year-old was about to find that late season English pitches weren’t always conducive to power hitting. Not that he was in any mood to adapt his game.

“It was quite awkward,” says Moore. “One thing Gayley didn’t
really like was the ball moving about. He wanted the ball coming onto the bat.
We played on some nippy wickets at places like Blackpool and Headingley and the
ball was doing quite a lot.

“His response to the ball doing anything was to smack the
cover off it.   I think we probably had a
50-run partnership every time we batted but my contribution was probably four
or five each time! He was just smacking it from the other end. As opening
partner that’s quite awkward because you don’t really feel as though you’re
building momentum as a pair.

“I found it quite hard to adjust and play a big innings with
him because he was just playing at a completely different tempo to anyone I had
played with previously, particularly at the top of the order in a four-day
game.”

It made for good watching, though, as Steve Peters, another of his former Worcestershire colleagues, recalls.

“I don’t recall him running too much,” he laughs. “But I do recall him doing an awful lot of sleeping. He was probably the most laid-back and relaxed cricketer I’ve ever played with. When he batted, though, there was always something happening.”

Most of it involving fielders bruising hands and umpires diving for cover as he launched another Exocet. For the man himself, however, the opportunity to play at Worcestershire allowed him to keep his eye in and maintain his fitness as the fall-out from the first of many contract disputes with the West Indies Cricket Board played out back home.

Worcestershire's Stephen Moore
Photo: Getty Images

And although his spell at New Road was a brief one, it’s one
that’s etched in the memories of those who witnessed it at first hand.

“I opened with him in all forms of the game, in four-day and
one-day cricket and it was great – he’s just such a different character,” says
Moore, who now works for Rolls Royce in Derbyshire.

“You play with these people during your career and you feel
genuinely privileged that you’ve been able to share a dressing room with so
many of these great players.

“He’s one of those characters you always remember. At that
time, we didn’t have these different squads, the formats of the game blended in
a lot more than they do now. So it wasn’t just a case of him turning up and
playing one-day cricket, he played the whole lot.”

Not that his approach differed widely according to how many
overs or days the match lasted, with Gayle seemingly intent on challenging
County Championship norms that had endured for well over a century. 

“We played against Yorkshire at Headingley and in the second
over they had a long-off in,” says Moore.

“He was hitting the ball so hard that we couldn’t even take
a single when it went there. Mind you, Gayley wasn’t really one for taking
quick singles.

“There was another time against Lancashire when probably as
early as the eighth over they had three sweepers. You normally just have a
third man and a fine leg on the fence. These fields hadn’t really been seen in
county cricket before.

“When we were out there, though, you just got the sense that
here was a very, very calm guy, very relaxed, and that suited me because I
wasn’t too intense out in the middle either.

“He would sometimes just want to talk about what we were
doing in the evening, those kind of things. Sometimes he would talk about the
game but he didn’t talk a lot.”

His batting said it all.

RICHARD EDWARDS

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