There’s the Universe Boss, then daylight, then every other T20 batsman who has ever played the game. Gayle’s list of records in the format is simply awe-inspiring – more than 10,000 T20 runs (almost 2500 more than the nearest challenger), 18 centuries (no-one else has made more than seven), the highest total (175 not out), the fastest hundred (30 balls), the most sixes (743 and counting)… you name it, he’s bossed it.
In the multi-millon-dollar goldfish-bowl of modern-day Indian cricket, it takes a cricketer of unrivalled stature to absorb the pressures of performing day-in, day-out in front of the most demanding fans in the universe. Kohli has done just that, across formats and franchises, leading the line for India and RCB alike with a ferociously brilliant attitude that carries the attack straight back to every bowler in the game. He is the face of the modern-day game, and he’s not just a pretty one at that.
The Master Blaster never had the chance to play T20 cricket, but just imagine how cowed the world’s bowlers would have been had he done so. The most imperious batsman ever to play the game, Viv would swagger to the middle in his maroon cap (no helmet for him, no matter how ferocious the bowling) and intimidate with the merest gum-chew and jutting-jawed stare. His 56-ball Test hundred against England in 1986 remained a record for 30 years; his 189 not out in an ODI against the same opponents at Old Trafford in 1984 was a hint of what he could have achieved in this bat-dominated era.
AB de Villiers
The arch-exponent of 360-degree batting, de Villiers makes boundaries from deliveries that his predecessors would have been pre-conditioned to write off as unplayable. Second only to Gayle among overseas heroes at the IPL, de Villiers’ most destructive moment came in an ODI against West Indies in Johannesburg in 2015. With flick after flick for six over fine leg, he rattled along to a 31-ball hundred, and a 149 from 44 balls all told.
MS Dhoni (wk)
The keeper of the galaxy’s wickets, and the coolest, most calculating finisher the format has ever known. No runs/balls equation can ever faze Dhoni, who captained India to the inaugural World T20 title in 2007, before hitting the winning six in the 50-over World Cup final four years later. If he’s still batting when the match reaches its climax, woe betide the bowling side.
The greatest allrounder in the sport’s history, and the most versatile weapon that any T20 team could hope for. His formidable power with the bat is legendary – just ask Malcolm Nash, whom Sobers launched into outer space with six sixes in an over at Swansea in 1968 – but just imagine trying to face his lethal variations with the ball. Hooping swing from a left-arm line with the new ball, or tantalising orthodox spin if the conditions demand. And he was also a mean wristspinner to boot. Then, throw in his ability to catch flies in the outfield, and it’s little wonder that no less a judge as Don Bradman described him as a “five-in-one” cricketer.
Arguably the most skilful fast bowler the galaxy has ever seen, Wasim was another who missed the T20 revolution but who would surely have dominated given half a chance. His finest moment (or two) came in the 50-over World Cup final against England in 1992 – a stunning two-card trick to Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis, bowled past the outside and inside-edge respectively, as he snaked Pakistan to the title with peerless command of reverse swing. And, as a hard-hitting batsman who once struck 12 sixes in a Test-best 257, his ability to biff the beejaysus out of the death overs wouldn’t have gone amiss either.
Arguably the greatest spin bowler in the universe, with one of the greatest game-brains ever conceived, Warne’s command of line, length and revolutions was second to none, while his ability to keep cool under fire transcended formats. T20 cricket came too late for him to showcase his fullest repertoire but, as an ever-conniving captain of Rajasthan Royals, he chivvied his unfancied squad to the inaugural IPL title in 2008. With an endless repertoire of variations – some real, several imagined – he would doubtless have outpsyched a host of hard-hitting sluggers in his pomp.
With his sidewinder approach, searing pace and skiddy action, Marshall was arguably the most unnerving fast bowler the world has ever known. The most skilful member of West Indies’ pace battery of the 1980s, Marshall’s unerringly accurate bouncer would spit like a cobra before any batsman had enough time to size up its length, but it was his ability – in his latter years – to throttle back the speed and concentrate on devious swing and cut that underlined what an intelligent player he was. He’d have had a weapon for every situation, not least – one suspects – when guarding his team at the death.
“Deadly” Derek Underwood was nominably a slow left-arm bowler, but his pace through the air was startling at times and, with the exception of his peerless Kent sidekick, the wicketkeeper Alan Knott, few players at the business end ever had the measure of his bottomless bag of tricks. He was at his most lethal on drying wickets in the days of uncovered pitches – witness his mopping-up of Australia at The Oval in 1968 – but he could adjust his pace and flight to suit any surface. He was a mystery spinner before anyone had even coined the term.
“Slinger” Malinga honed his extraordinary round-arm style as a means of skidding tennis balls out of the surf on the beaches of his native Sri Lanka, and he’s been bamboozling generations of batsmen throughout a long and storied career. In an era when opponents like to get “under the ball”, via ramps, slogs and lofted drives, Malinga’s almost subterranean line of attack instantly ups the ante, and few deliveries are more deadly than his low-slung wicket-to-wicket yorkers. He’s the only player to have claimed three ODI hat-tricks, and even made it four in four balls against South Africa at the 2007 World Cup.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket