Over the last week, two explosive batsmen have suffered from what has been a dramatic turn of events. While Kevin Pietersen of England decided to quit ODIs and T20s, Chris Gayle of West Indies is in all probability going to play for his country in those two formats of the game pretty soon even as he has not been picked for the Test series against England. The burly, cool cricketing character from Jamaica will at last be seen again in the brown colours of the Caribbean.
Gayle has always had a massive influence on this West Indies side, whether Brian Lara was in the team or not. When he retired, the pressure was enormous on him and he was actually appointed captain for a period of time. He is that type of a player who likes to focus on his batting more and was not that inspirational a leader as a result. That was the major reason perhaps, which resulted in his downfall as he suffered from wretched form from the period of 2009-2011.
When your best player is not at his best, the team will continue to suffer and thus West Indies’ slide in the rankings did not stop. Although Gayle did hit 333 in 2010 in a Test match in Sri Lanka, which made him only the fourth player after Brian Lara, Australia’s Sir Don Bradman and India’s Virender Sehwag to score two triple centuries in the longest format of the game. He can be that devastating once he gets a big score. So Gayle coming back to the ODI team at least naturally makes a lot of sense, and finally the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) has realized their mistake of leaving him out since the last 15 months. Performance is not likely to be the criteria for the Jamaican opener to make it to the World T20 team because the entire cricketing world knows what he has become capable of.
Perhaps a 15 month exile might have been the best thing that happened to Gayle, for many reasons. Firstly, he got several opportunities to improve his skills across the world by playing in T20 leagues such as the IPL and the Australian Big Bash. He was surprisingly rejected by Kolkata Knight Riders in the 2011 auction and later he was picked by Royal Challengers Bangalore as a replacement player for Dirk Nannes. And he proved to be more than just a replacement player for the Vijay Mallya-owned franchise!
Gayle scored over 500 runs in the entire IPL season, and singlehandedly turned the tide for a struggling team. His hundred against the Knight Riders in Kolkata that too, was an irony since his first game in the 2011 tournament was against his former team at his former home ground. Bangalore finished on top of the points table, and proceeded to the final to play Chennai Super Kings in Chennai. Unfortunately he failed at the biggest stage and Chennai comfortably won the game and with that, the IPL title again. Individually though, Gayle easily won the Orange Cap for the first time and being the first West Indian to do so in the IPL.
His exploits in India were significant because Gayle had now become a clean hitter of the ball, rather than a batsman who would hit but gave the opposition more chances of getting him out. It cannot be determined whether it is his mind not being cluttered or a suddenly brilliant run of form filled with fortune which did the trick for him, but this was a different and a more dangerous Gayle that the world saw. The calls to the WICB increased more to bring him back to the team, but their focus still was on making the team independent of Gayle and building a side for the future which can be capable of repeating their past.
The Jamaican’s fight with the WICB continued with one scathing speech of his which further made their relationship worse than before. This was a speech filled with honesty and his dedication to play cricket for his country first rather than for leagues such as the IPL. He was courageous enough to bring out the flaws of the WICB and the rift which had occurred within the team under his captaincy during the World Cup 2011 in the Indian subcontinent, mainly due to the differences between him and coach Ottis Gibson in the team selection. It was the first time that he removed his frustration in public, although he is calm as always.
Well, in this world the one who has the will to live on the principle of truth is often discriminated against and that is happened with Gayle. The WICB continued to ignore him, and it had to take political influence to broker an agreement between the player and the board. Such is the state of West Indies cricket, pity indeed considering where they were before and where they are now! Gayle might act as per his ego, but he deserves to have that ego due to his achievements for his country. Whereas, the WICB has always been cruel to even the best of the players such as Brian Lara, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul and acts like a Hitler to them. If the administration is not supportive of their players, how can the players perform well on the field?
Gayle put all this side and focused on T20 cricket. He had a moderate outing in Australia, turning for the David Warner-led Sydney Thunder. But he learnt from that experience and put it to good use in Zimbabwe, where he was again the star batsman or rather player out of them all. His form throughout the 15 months made him the hottest property to purchase in Bangladesh, South Africa and England, but he missed out playing in South Africa due to an injury. He played in Bangladesh in a couple of games at the start of the inaugural T20 tournament there, but got injured. While he cannot play in England, due to the fact that he has been picked to play for the national team.
T20 can be detrimental to a player’s batting abilities, but this does not apply to Gayle. In India, he continued to have a gala time for the second year in a row and he bettered his run tally by scoring over 700 runs and that too in a lesser number of matches! No team could actually have the last laugh over him and again, he was the soul of the Royal Challengers Bangalore side. But Gayle is no Superman, and as a result Bangalore this time could not make it to the playoffs stage, finishing 5th in the competition. He became the first player to win the Orange Cap twice and for two years in a row.
This was the signal that the WICB needed to realize that Gayle had to return for the better of the team, which is being able to compete with top teams but still not managing to win many matches. The coach Gibson does not seem to have a problem yet, while the captain Darren Sammy and most of his teammates have been speaking in favour of Gayle coming back into the West Indies side. West Indies’ cricket is on a revival mode, although they have lost two Tests in a row in England and this could be the right time for Gayle to enter into the side.
Do not be surprised if the West Indies turn out to the surprise package in the World T20 2012 this year in Sri Lanka. Gayle’s presence will automatically shoot up their morale and he will be adequately supported by a batting line up comprising of Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, Darren Bravo, Darren Sammy and Marlon Samuels. The Champions Trophy is in England next year, and the team would hope to repeat its 2004 achievement where under Brian Lara, they won the competition despite being the underdogs.
Currently, West Indies would hope to turn it around in the ODI series in England and thus forgetting a poor outing in the Test matches. The team badly needs an experienced, attacking opening batsman in all formats of the game and who better than Chris Gayle?
But it would be interesting to see whether Gayle would actually divide the men from the Caribbean and make them sink lower, or be a driving force in their resurgence as they would plan to first go up in the rankings by winning more matches and then championships. Again, it was politics which made this impossible but this time it is for the better of West Indies cricket, which needs rationality to dominate its decisions and those people who are rational in their approach towards this game, and not being egoistic about money, position or pride per se.