Gayle, Garner a significant pairing
Two headlines within a couple of pages of each other in the sports section of a Barbados daily during the week had different takes on the issue but both highlighted one of the most critical of the many challenges that face the West Indies on their current tour of Australia.
"Garner is the man for the job" proclaimed one, "Gayle and Garner a recipe for disaster" maintained the other.
That the two columnists zeroed in on the relationship between the new manager and the reinstated captain was a realistic reflection of its significance.
No manager since Clive Lloyd briefly held the portfolio ten years ago has had a higher profile, in every sense, than Garner. He is a towering figure, the toe-crushing, finger-fracturing, stump-scattering member of the hit squad in the years of West Indian domination, now straight-talking disciplinarian president of the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) and, as such, director of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).
Like so many of his contemporaries, Sir Viv Richards and Michael Holding most stridently so, he was infuriated by the strike by Gayle and the other leading players, the second in four years, that exposed the West Indies to the embarrassment of defeat by Bangladesh and further tarnished an already ruined reputation.
The WICB have clearly and deliberately appointed him to sort things out and he has immediately set out his position, declaring that the players should "know and understand" that things such as discipline, punctuality and the way they train are "not negotiable". He has, inevitably, alluded to the values that made the teams of his era so great. It wasn't talent alone but "we worked hard and we took the time out to do the things that were right and to bring the cricket up".
They are sentiments Gayle and his players have heard over and over again without evidence of them taking heed, except when Allen Stanford put US$20 million on the line and drilled them in a camp for six weeks before their one-off, Twenty20 match against England. For all his desire for change, Garner must know it can't come overnight. He will be wise to be guided by his experience as manager of the A team to England in 2002 (that included Gayle, Sulieman Benn and Dwayne Bravo of the present group), described by Wisden as a "bad-tempered, unproductive meander through the backwaters of English cricket".
He needs to be strong but tactful in his dealings with a similarly uncompromising captain and players steeped in ways unchecked over the years by the weakness of the board. One of Gayle's first pronouncements on taking on the captaincy in England in 2007 was that he objected to curfews. He is unlikely to find Garner sympathetic on that score. He also quickly upbraided the board for its glaring inefficiency and said he would stand up to it when the then president demanded he apologise. After that, he consolidated his position with the vocal support of his men, with his batting and with the gradual improvement in the team's performances.
The players took their lead from him, fighting fiercely to regain the Wisden Trophy from England in the Caribbean, then immediately shutting down on a return tour they regarded as foisted on them and, finally, opting out altogether against Bangladesh. Garner might yet find it difficult getting his message through but circumstances have changed. Those in his charge should now be more understanding.
Gayle has accepted the captaincy and spoken positively about the honour it brings and about his commitment. Others have acknowledged that they missed international cricket and are eager to get going again. Gayle protests that his super-cool exterior is widely misinterpreted as indifference but he can only be judged by his words and deeds and these have suggested otherwise during his time at the helm. Now there is a chance for him to alter the perception.
One of his predecessors, Jimmy Adams, has noted that the expectations of a passionate public is the heaviest burden for any West Indies captain. The expectations this time can not be of success of a blatantly underprepared team against opponents playing at home who continue to demonstrate their strength and depth with their recent ODI triumph away in India in spite of the loss of nine players through injury.
They are of a captain and team accepting and implementing the new manager's non-negotiables.
Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for nearly 50 years