He’s got long locks, big biceps, tattooed forearms and a stance that tells the bowler he means business. If not for the bandana beneath the helmet and perhaps his height, Kyle Mayers is every bit Chris Gayle in disguise.
But it isn’t just the looks where he matches Gayle. He’s got a similar game: where brute force marries impeccable timing. The result: 100-metre sixes for fun, flat-batted hits that have bowlers and umpires ducking for cover and those in the crowd making a beeline for helmets as much as they need clean toilets and drinking water.
It’s fun and it’s exhilarating if you’re anyone but the bowler. This is exactly what a new franchise like Lucknow Super Giants, trying to win over the fan base, has been yearning for. How long can you convince the fans strike rates don’t matter when you see batters right royally Rinku Singh-ing balls in their sleep at the Chinnaswamy or Ahmedabad.
Conservatism is not a part of Mayers’ game. He’s a throwback to Gayle of the 2012 vintage. Someone who can take on the best with an air of nonchalance, verbal volleys and chatter be dammed. It is a simple game based on the old funda of see ball, hit ball. Forget footwork, forget feet to the pitch, forget getting behind the line.
Mayers is a baseballer in a cricketer’s disguise. He stands tall, stays besides the line, uses room and swing cleanly if full. He muscle pulls or whips if it’s into the body. Or if they bowl wide, uses his reach to carve the ball. And he does all of this with ridiculous ease, by simply reacting to the ball.
It didn’t matter for once on Friday that it was Kagiso Rabada steaming in and effortlessly cranking up 145khph, or that Arshdeep Singh was swinging the ball bananas, his confidence sky high from having delivered a blockbuster a couple of nights earlier against Mumbai Indians, where he had flattened stumps for fun with his yorkers.
Watching Mayers and Nicholas Pooran bludgeon the bowling in the powerplay and death overs felt like watch two tigers let out of a cage, after enduring tough surfaces back home in Lucknow, where the ball stops, turns, are two-paced to the point where teams have huffed and puffed to force the pace.
Mayers set the tempo right at the outset, throwing his hands at anything wide and in his hitting arc as Arshdeep was blasted for four fours in his first over. It wasn’t just muscle, there was aesthetics too when he belted the ball down the ground ferociously to beat mid-off twice – high elbow, feet to the pitch and all that.
And once the opening salvo was out of the way, Mayers decided this was his night. He was now an unstoppable force an over into the innings, and young debutant Gurnoor Brar bore the brunt of his fury.
With pace disappearing, Shikhar Dhawan quickly turned to spin, but the effect was the same. Mayers was in such a zone that he was hitting the same short ball to different parts, almost as if to suggest because he was bored hitting over long-on, he’d blast one over deep midwicket.
It meant a 20-ball half-century, his second this season inside the powerplay. All other batters combined had those many inside the first six this season. It was an emphatic message to the Super Giants. If you’re keeping someone of Quinton de Kock’s calibre out, he better be special. Mayers proved he was indeed special.
That assault wasn’t the only one that dented the Kings. There was another man batting with the hurt of having performed poorly and let go by the very franchise he was now playing against. His talent had never been in doubt, but the version of Pooran who rocked up for Kings misfired more often than he fired, batting with the apprehensions of someone who was neither guaranteed security nor knew his role well. And while it’s entirely possible both of these weren’t the case, Pooran gave away confusing vibes.
He had a miserable final year for the Kings in 2021, making 85 runs at 7.72 across the season, and was released ahead of the mega auction. And so, this was perhaps another chance to send a quiet message that he was alive and kicking.
He’d hardly had chances to bat in the top order, and so he’s never going to be able to gun for the orange cap. Pooran can’t be judged by looking at his runs tally for consistency, because it’s a high-risk game. Or so you think, until you realise the poise, balance and clean ball-striking without really meaning to belt the ball gob smacks you.
He didn’t need sighters. He came in and immediately offset Liam Livingstone by slapping three boundaries. Fast hands, quick feet – this was instinct-driven batting right out of the top drawer.
The third of the lot was the most special for the amount of power he managed to generate on a low full toss and the oodles of wrist he had to use to pick the ball into the gap knowing there was sweeper cover after he’d hit the ball in the same direction the previous two deliveries too. Yet, that sweeper couldn’t do much to prevent a third four.
Part of his knock, even at the death, involved tactful strike rotation to bring back Marcus Stoinis on strike and enjoy some fun from the best seat in the house. But when he was on strike, this was Pooran’s day and he wasn’t going to let go of a chance to finish an innings the way Mayers had started.
It was a proper throwback to the old Caribbean flavour. Of the times when Gayle set up an innings and Andre Russell, elsewhere, finished them off cooly. This was Mayers and Pooran delivering the same effect, but for the same team, with unbridled joy. This was as expressive as “express myself” can get. It certainly helped the Super Giants bring the thrill to beat the mid-season lull.