Cricket is a team game, but like any other sport, it also needs superstars and the talented players to add to its aura. So, when one such undoubted superstar - West Indies' Chris Gayle - is forced to sit out of international cricket for almost 15 months because of a protracted stand-off with his country's board; the sport and its stakeholders are also affected.
Gayle missed 16 Test matches, 23 one-day internationals and seven Twenty20 Internationals, because of his 15-month feud with coach Ottis Gibson and the West Indies Cricket Board. His last international match was the 2011 World Cup quarter-final against Pakistan at Dhaka on 23 March 2011.
In those 15 months, Gayle's absence at the top of the order and a handy off-spinner were obviously missed by West Indies, and though the Darren Sammy led-team impressed in this time with their lion-hearted performances, one felt the 'X' factor was missing.
That 'X' factor was Gayle, and now fortunately, better sense has prevailed amongst all concerned parties and the happy-go-lucky attacking southpaw is on the verge of making his international comeback. The seed for the conflict to be amicably resolved was set in motion by Gayle in May, when he scrapped his deal with English county Somerset to make himself available for West Indies. Then, earlier this month, the stand-off between Gayle and the WICB officially ended after a high-level meeting that was also attended by St. Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves as well as Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer.
Gayle is used to being in the spotlight, but even he understands there will be increased pressure on him when he makes his international comeback in the one-day international against England at The Rose Bowl in Southampton on 16 June 2012. The pressure will not only be because it took a high-level meeting attended by two of the Caribbean's prime ministers to get him back into the West Indies fold, but also because his absence from the national team was the subject of wide discussion and debate over the last 15 months.
Gayle, Gibson and the WICB have also been making all the right noises since the southpaw's recall to the national team and are presenting a unified front. While Gibson has described Gayle as the "world's best one-day batsman", the tall southpaw has said, "Everything has been rectified (with Ottis Gibson and the board), we are all here as one and our main objective is to try to contribute to West Indies cricket."
His first match back in West Indies colours was a warm-up match against Middlesex in which he hit two sixes and four boundaries in his 30-ball 34 and also took a couple of wickets as the visitors cruised to a massive 228-run win. Gayle admitted after the match that he was a bit nervous, but added "now I'm really looking forward to the first ODI game. I'll be in a better state of mind".
Gayle has been welcomed back to the West Indies dressing room with open arms, but he is aware of the change in attitude and work ethic in Sammy's team over the last 15 months. He is a one-man army and a match-winner, but Gayle will have to adjust to the 'new' West Indies dressing room in a hurry and so will the rest of the squad with him to ensure West Indies continue taking the positive and proactive baby steps to reclaim their lost glory in the cricketing world.
"Once you get settled in everything will come back to normal. You get that feel again in any environment which you have been out of for a year. Once you get back that feeling, once you get back into your comfort zone, things will be much easier," Gayle, who has made himself available for all three formats of the game, recently said.
Gayle has been piling up the runs in Twenty20 leagues across the world, but he is bound to be hungry to make up for those lost 15 months of international cricket and the southpaw will look to make a statement of intent against an England ODI team, which will be without its most influential player in Kevin Pietersen.
He has been missed by the West Indies and fans world over. It's now time for the Gayle show to resume in international cricket. Let the fireworks begin!