There was a time -- not very long ago -- when the sight of Chris Gayle at the batting crease sent the fans into a tizzy and the struggling bowlers descended into a quicksand of terror. Gayle's imposing physique was tailor-made for the T20 format -- it emphasised power over speed; it empasised brutality over grace and even though he seemed to have trouble running the twos, it often had the desired effect. For three years between 2011 and 2013, the West Indian was unstoppable in the IPL. In 2011, he hammered 608 runs off 332 balls in 11 matches. His strike-rate was an astounding 183.13. In 2012, he continued in the same vein... scoring 733 runs off 456 balls in 15 matches. Seven fifties showed a crazy level of consistency. He hit more sixes (59) than fours (46) in this season. In 2013, he hit the incredible 175 not out and once again topped the 700-run mark. No one quite knew how to bowl to him. Anything and everything close to him was being dispatched to the boundary lines (160 fours) or above and beyond it (154 sixes). The man was so powerful that even mishits were going for the 'maximum.'
But come 2016 -- between the 'don't blush, baby' scandal in Australia and Blush (his first child) -- the big Jamaican seems to have lost himself and the confidence of his skipper. In four matches, he has scored seven runs at an average of 3.25. Given that he has been such a match-winner for RCB in the past, one would have reckoned that Virat Kohli would have given him a longer rope but instead, he was dropped and that was perhaps the strongest indicator of how difficult things have got.
The opposition has zeroed in on his poor footwork. Yorkers on the leg-stump (as Bhuvneshwar did in the first game), widish deliveries that require footwork (as Zaheer Khan set him up) and wide yorkers that don't allow him to use his strength have been the order of the day.
Gayle no longer feels as deadly; no longer feels like the all-conquering hero; no longer does he seem infallible.
The signs, however, were all there.
He started off with a century in the World T20 but then followed it with a 4, 5, 4 in the three innings he batted. Clearly coming into the IPL 2016, his form wasn't the best but now it seems to have hit rock bottom.
The bigger question though is whether this is the end of the phenomenon known as Gayle Storm.
He looks like a shadow of the fearsome player he once was -- fitness is an issue, movement is an issue and the hand-eye co-ordination isn't as special either. He is a liability on the field and doesn't bowl regularly anymore either. The descent into mediocrity has been alarmingly quick.
RCB are sixth in the table and every game from this point is a must-win but is Gayle the man to help them past the league stage or has he been sorted once and for all by the bowlers? Will he somehow manage to find his way back to the top? Will he just disappear like the ball once used to off his bat?
If nothing else, these questions will keep us interested in the Gayle story for a while longer. We've seen strange things happen in T20 cricket and a Gayle resurrection -- however unlikely it seems -- would not be out of place in that list.