Don’t blame me, said Chris Gayle as he bid an explosive goodbye to the Jozi Stars and a disastrous MSL campaign. The defending champions are yet to win a single game, which has led to some finger-pointing.
The 40-year old West Indies opener leaves South Africa with 101 runs from six innings; 54 of them came on Sunday. “As soon as I don’t perform for two or three games, then Chris Gayle is the burden for the team,” he said at the press conference after the Stars collapsed from a winning position against Tshwane Spartans.
“I am not talking for this team only. This is something I have analysed over the years playing franchise cricket. Chris Gayle is always a burden if I don’t score runs, two, three, four times. It seems like that one particular individual is the burden for the team. And then you will hear bickering. I am not going to get respect. People don’t remember what you have done for them. I don’t get respect.
“And I am not talking about this franchise. I am talking generally. Even from players as well, I am talking. Players, management, head of management, board members. Chris Gayle never get no respect. Once Chris Gayle fails, it’s the end of his career, he is no good, he is the worst player and all these other things. I’ve generally overcome these things and I expect these things and I have lived with these things.”
Both Gayle and the Stars have had a tough time in this year’s MSL. The team has lost all six of their matches while Gayle scored only 47 runs in his first five innings before scoring 54 off 28 balls in his final appearance, which was also his 400th T20 match.
He played in the game against the Spartans despite having a high fever overnight because he wanted to sign-off on a high. The Stars were well set on 122 for 3 in the 14th over, chasing a target of 156, but then lost 7 for 13 in 29 balls to crumble to 135 all out.
“It was bad, bad to watch,” Gayle said. “Everyone will be hurt from such a thing. I am hurt from a personal point of view. I really wanted to win. I thought this was the one but it wasn’t meant to be again.”
While Gayle was critical of the team’s performance, he could not pinpoint why the dressing room environment is not creating a winning culture. “This is not a champion team. This is not how defending champions should play to defend the title. Most of the times it’s been a lot of uncertainty from guys and I don’t know if it’s an off the field problem, I don’t know what’s happening. I think individuals, the franchise itself, needs to look at themselves and dig deep with what is happening. Something is wrong. I don’t know what it is but we need to find out what’s wrong.”
The Stars came into this season with several changes to their set up. They were forced to find a new coach after Enoch Nkwe was appointed interim national team director and promoted his assistant from 2018, Donovan Miller, to the role. Miller is the only foreign coach in this year’s MSL.
They also had a change of captaincy after last season’s skipper Dane Vilas was picked up by the Durban Heat. Temba Bavuma, who is being tipped to lead at national level, is their new captain and although he is the tournament’s second-highest run-scorer, he has not been able to spearhead any wins. As a result, the Stars have looked more dejected with each game which is a complete contrast to their feel-good vibe from last year which Gayle had been hoping to come back to.
“I had so much fun last year. I didn’t plan to come to play this year but because of the spirit last year, the dressing room environment was so fantastic, I just wanted to come and play. It wasn’t about money at all, there was no negotiation, I said ‘just sign it up but I won’t play the full tournament’. I will play six games because I want to share one more moment with this dressing room and that’s what I did. Normally I would take a break right now but I really, really wanted to come here.”
Asked if he would come back to the MSL, Gayle joked “never say never,” and although he plans to take the rest of 2019 off, he indicated that his playing days are not done just yet. “It’s important to take a break from the game as well. For me, I have played so many games that I know what I need to do to prepare for a tournament. The mental part is not an issue for me, it’s more the physical side of things. Once I get the physical side of things right, I can still carry on for however long I want to play this game.”
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.