The Gayle-shaped void

Enough with the ego tussles. Caribbean cricket must bring back Gayle for its own good.

While WI have been converting wins into losses, Gayle has been butchering T20 bowlers. Since 2006, the West Indies have declared a Test innings on only four occasions. Two of those resulted in tame draws and one in a victory against Bangladesh. The latest instance of course was against Australia in the Test at Kensington Oval, which painfully reminded fans they are still mired in the ignominious era of ‘Collapso Cricket’.

Before the tourists arrived, the West Indies probably would have taken a 2-2 draw to the ODI series. But given the opportunity to seize so much more, they have shown a weakness in purpose, resolve and belief. These qualities are often referred to as intangibles, and often the fruits of strong leadership. The West Indies have had little from within their camp, and less from their board.

Where purpose, resolve and belief flag, one must resort to rely on talent and class. Within hours of West Indies conceding the Test to Australia, Kieron Pollard took Player of the Match honors representing the Mumbai Indians in the ongoing IPL bludgeoning 64 from 33 deliveries. The next day, Chris Gayle donned the colors of the Bangalore Royal Challengers and launched 68 from 35 deliveries, clearing the rope six times.

Ignore for the moment that we are looking at an IPL innings played in Chennai and trying to apply success to a Test pitch in Bridgetown, Barbados against Australia. Remember that Gayle has two Test triple centuries to his name. Now that Gayle’s latest verbal fracas with his board has reached a resolution that sees him available for selection for the regional team, the wait for his return to the playing XI will be as torturous as the wait for his meeting with the WICB.

For someone who has a legendary reputation of being calm and cool, a longitudinal look at Gayle as he approaches the silver age of his playing days will likely remember him a tall, left-hander with ferocious power that turned orthodox shots uncanny. Off the field, he has perhaps made too many comments that rubbed purists the wrong way, or antagonized his board too many times (regardless of who was at fault) to be an icon and a beacon.

But his class and talent persevere. Gayle is a fierce competitor and a proven match-winner. It might be harsh but not untrue to say he has provided his share of performances that ought to have been winning contributions that the team as a whole failed to convert. He has been an anchor for the squad that inspired fear. Chanderpaul might be a more difficult wicket to secure, with his unorthodox stance, and stubborn patience, but Gayle’s wicket brings greater relief. Gayle continues to inspire fear and doubt in opposing bowlers as they are handed the ball by their captain, as they mark their run-up, and even as they manage to start an over with consecutive dot balls.

***

HOWEVER EGOMANIACAL and self-serving it appears, Gayle has proven that the West Indies needs him more than he needs the West Indies. In the last three months, he has played professionally on three different continents, representing Bangalore Royal Challengers, Barisal Burners, Jamaica and Sydney Thunder.

In the final analysis, it is the final scorecard that reveals the most. The West Indies tied one ODI they had every business winning. And when they secured a position of strength within the series and could not lose going into the fifth match, they had their worst collective performance and fell to a 2-2 draw. Talent and class between the two sides lean towards Australia, but not so much as it has for the past decade. Instead, Australia ‘won’ on purpose, resolve and belief, which still resides in their DNA. The younger lot has been victorious in enough battles to convince themselves that any success the opponent has is either luck or can be overcome with a few adjustments. Sure enough, Michael Clarke had some experience in his long career as a bridesmaid to great Test battles and spoke about the Adelaide Test in the 2006 Ashes. The West Indies had no talisman, and the man who comes closest to West Indies greatness by association, action and winning ability is Gayle.

Of course, Gayle alone could not have reversed every loss, but he is likely to do as much as one player can do for one team, with the bat and as a broad-shouldered anchor of belief.

You are welcome to disagree with his disparaging comments for the long form of the game after falling in love with T20, but when he puts on the whites again, the game will be better off. West Indians still continue to follow his game and cheer for his various T20 allegiances vicariously as he trots around the globe as a cricketing mercenary – a bat for hire. But when he puts on the whites again, the entire maroon region will cheer. The first lambs to the slaughter will be whoever England presents as an offering.

Khurram was born in Pakistan and raised in the West Indies. Raised to be an opening batsman by his father, he also formed a fearsome pace quartet with his brothers, and has a tremendous first-class record in backyards and on rooftops across the globe. You can follow his cricket-related comic stylings @LordsHaveMercy.

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