Gayle must respect Windies legacy - Richards
Sir Vivian Richards has called on Chris Gayle to put the West Indies contract dispute firmly behind him and lead his team in a manner befitting the region's legacy, as the team prepares to arrive in Australia on the eve of a Test campaign that will test the fragile peace that was brokered during meetings between the WICB and the players' association last month.
The team touches down in Australia on Wednesday, and Richards was cautiously optimistic that the reunited squad would put their recent troubles to one side. "The way it looks at the moment, it does suggest that there is a ceasefire," he told Cricinfo. "But we all know what ceasefires are like. Let's hope this is not a ceasefire like you get in the Middle East."
Gayle was a controversial choice as captain for the Australia tour, given his integral role in the stand-off with the board, and Daren Ganga was mentioned as a possible replacement following his inspirational leadership of Trinidad & Tobago in the recent Champions League.
But there is no questioning Gayle's status as the leading batsman in the Caribbean, and his absence was keenly felt earlier this year, as a second-string West Indies side slumped to an embarrassing home series defeat against Bangladesh, before being knocked out in the first round of the ICC Champions Trophy.
""I think Daren Ganga is a good captain who thinks on his feet, and he'd have been quite appropriate, so presently the jury is out," said Richards. "Gayle has got to go and show a different sort of attitude when he goes to Australia. He's got to show that he wants to represent his people and represent them well, and not only them, but also the legacy that he's representing. Let's hope he has learned his lessons."
Gayle has been the subject of controversy throughout a torrid year, particularly during the unscheduled tour of England in May, when he arrived in the country barely 24 hours before the first Test at Lord's, and went on to say in a newspaper interview that he "wouldn't be so sad" if Test cricket died out. But having announced his availability for the Australia tour, Richards said he was prepared to take the captain's declarations of full commitment at face value.
"I take it on board when he says he feels pretty strong, even though he may not show the so-called enthusiasm," said Richards. "Some people do things differently, and he's one of those individuals who's pretty laid back. But I still like to believe he wants to see West Indies cricket do well, and it's up to him. He's in the seat now to make that happen."
Even with a fully unified squad, the challenge that awaits West Indies would be arguably the toughest in the world game, and Richards - who made five Test tours of the country in the course of his illustrious career - knows from personal experience just what lies ahead.
"An Australia tour can make or break a team," he said. "They are like that. They are a pretty competitive bunch of folks. Over the years, I've always loved competing against the Aussies, because you knew they weren't going to give you half-measures, they were going to give you their all. You knew to what capacity you were going to have to raise your level. And that, to me, was always interesting.
"The Aussies were always ready and available verbally, whether with ball in hand or not. And I appreciated that aggressive stuff because I am a competitor myself, and these were the things that made me think. I hope that Gayle and the guys can deal with that, especially coming back from the dispute. Let's hope that he [recognises] the job he has to do now, and makes sure that he gels that team, and hopefully, if this ceasefire lasts, builds a team that can be competitive in the future."
Few people give West Indies a realistic chance of putting up a fight against Australia - Brian Lara, who led their last tour to the country in 2005-06, predicted recently that they would receive a "hiding" - but it is not all doom and gloom in the Caribbean, thanks to the exploits of Trinidad & Tobago, who captured the imaginations with their enterprising performances in last month's Champions League in India, in which they finished as runners-up.
"The way things have played out in the media, a lot of people would think there's nothing happening in the Caribbean," said Richards. "But they have given us the light, and shown the world that our club structure is as good as any club structure around the world. Even though they didn't win the tournament, to me, the message was already sent that West Indies cricket is still very much alive."
Nevertheless, Richards did not believe that Trinidad's success as an individual island would lead to further ructions within the fabric of West Indies cricket. "I don't think we have very far to go where those matters are concerned," he said. "Barbados tried that once [in 1967] when they took on the Rest of the World, because of the number of players they had in the West Indies team at the time, and they took a hiding. They are going to need more volume, there are so many people around the Caribbean with so much talent. They must be given an opportunity. That's the format that we have and that's how I'd like it to remain."
Sir Vivian Richards is an ambassador for the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo