Gayle ready to end exile against England
Chris Gayle is set to put more than a year in the international wilderness behind him when West Indies face England in the opening match of their one-day series at Southampton on Saturday.
Gayle has an impressive one-day record, with over 8,000 runs in 228 ODIS including 19 hundreds at an average of nearly 40.
But it is the manner in which the Jamaican left-hander bats that has made him one of cricket’s biggest box-office draws.
Indeed when it was confirmed Gayle had made his peace with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), ticket sales for Saturday’s match quickened to the extent of ensuring a near-capacity 14,000 crowd.
At his best, the 32-year-old opener and former West Indies captain is a ferocious, if essentially orthodox, hitter who is capable of driving the world’s fastest bowlers straight back over their heads for six.
A strike-rate of 83.95 is testament to Gayle’s attacking approach, yet until Wednesday’s warm-up match against Middlesex at Lord’s he hadn’t played for the West Indies for some 15 months since their World Cup quarter-final defeat by Pakistan in Dhaka.
Criticisms of coach Ottis Gibson and senior Caribbean cricket officials led to Gayle’s exile by the WICB.
However, a meeting earlier this month between the WICB, selectors and Gayle, brokered by Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of St Vincent, and Baldwin Spencer, the Prime Minister of Antigua, saw him restored to the squad.
Gayle is well aware that, after such intervention, expectations will be high.
But a couple of sixes in a brisk 34 against Middlesex, where he also took two wickets with his off-spin, suggested his skills had been undimmed during an absence where Gayle has cashed in on his talent in the lucrative Twenty20 Indian Premier League.
“I’m human, so I felt a bit nervous,” he said. “But now I’m really looking forward to the first ODI game. I’ll be in a better state of mind.
“Everything has been rectified (with Gibson and the board), we are all here as one and our main objective is to try to contribute to West Indies cricket.” Gibson added: “Gayle is the best one-day batsman in the world...He has fitted in well and is raring to go.” West Indies, who lost a three-match Test series against England 2-0 earlier this week after a rain-marred draw at Edgbaston, have long believed the three 50-over internationals on this tour provide their best chance of victory.
A confident Gibson, a former England bowling coach, said: “At the start of the tour I said the one-day series provides us with our best chance of success and we still believe that.
“We believe we have got a great chance of winning games in this series.” As well as Gayle, West Indies, who will again be captained by Darren Sammy, have been bolstered by the arrival of all-rounders Dwayne Smith, Kieron Pollard and Andre Russell.
While the West Indies have welcomed back their biggest drawcard, England have lost one of theirs in Kevin Pietersen after the star batsman retired from all white-ball international cricket when the management denied him his wish to opt out of the 50-over game while still playing Twenty20s.
Ian Bell is set to take the opener’s space vacated by Pietersen with all-rounder Ravi Bopara, who missed the Tests through injury, pushing for an England recall in a one-day side again led by his Essex colleague Alastair Cook.
“I think it’s really sad he won’t be playing all three forms of the game,” said England coach Andy Flower of Pietersen. “He’s in incredible form — technically, he’s excellent.” But he insisted Bell was capable of filling the gap, as long as he played his own game.
“We don’t want him to do a similar job to Pietersen, we want him to be Ian Bell and play great international cricket.”