A blessing that it's all over
Much like his batting, Chris Gayle's reputation has gone through several phases these past few months. He arrived in Australia in November for the series of three Tests castigated by the Australian media as a villain, a reinstated captain who had openly dissed Test cricket in favour of Twenty20 and a pivotal figure in the disruptive players' strike that preceded the tour.
By the end, he was being widely hailed as a champion, Man of the Series for leading a spirited West Indies revival with two high quality hundreds in the last two Tests and his general leadership.
"Gayle has brought some muscle and pride back to West Indies cricket," Peter Lalor, a previous doubter, wrote in the Australian.
Now, just over a month on, at the end of an ill-starred return series of ODIs, Gayle finds himself the butt of the kind of derision usually reserved for clairvoyants who prophesise the end of the world every other Friday.
Never shy of expressing an opinion, he proclaimed that his team, even though hamstrung by injuries to several key players, would somehow defeat the most powerful exponents of the 50-overs game--and by 4-to-1, no less.
It might just have been another of Gayle's casual lines to wind up the media. Perhaps he felt it would have given comfort to the new players in his patched-up outfit.
Surely he could not have believed his forecast for, through strained backs, damaged fingers, pulled hamstrings and wonky knees, he was without his two most experienced batsmen Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan, his vice-captain and key allrounder Dwayne Bravo, left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn, fast bowler Jerome Taylor and the talented young opener Adrian Barath.
Possibly, Gayle expected that the same unity and commitment that was obvious in the last two Tests in December would carry them through, in spite of such handicaps.
Had the ODIs immediately followed, as they used to, that might have given them the necessary state of mind to be competitive, if hardly earn a 4-1 triumph.
Instead, there was a gap of three weeks between the two during which the players went their separate ways.
In spite of contracts with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), Gayle and Bravo skipped the WICB's own first-class tournament to remain in Australia for the Twenty20 Bash (during which both were injured).
A few sought medical attention for the ailments that would prevent their return. Others went home for a couple of meaningless, sub-standard four-day matches.
It was plain from the start of the ODI series that, for some inexplicable reason, the spirit of the Tests had evaporated in the interim.
Even from the other side of the planet, the same 'don't care' approach that prevailed during the shameful campaign in England last May was clear through the television coverage.
Faces were sullen and shoulders quickly drooped. Straightforward catches were spilled, slack strokes cost wickets.
Even David Williams, the always upbeat coach, was moved to say after Friday's latest humiliation: "It is a blessing for us the ODIs are over. We played terrible in all three departments and to drop five catches in 50 overs tells a lot about our performance."
Reliable, long-standing colleagues in Australia reported that it reflected a general problem of attitude. It is nothing new. It is the one common factor in the West Indies' desperate decline of the past 15 years or so.
The reports of Gayle, Williams and manager Joel Garner, never one known to hold back, should make instructive reading for the WICB. If they correspond to the unofficial accounts out of Australia, it must act on them as it has failed to do in the past.
For all Gayle's braggadocio, no one expected the West Indies, No.8 in the ODI rankings, to win even one match against the No.1 opponents who had just thrashed Pakistan in nine successive matches (three Tests, five ODIs and a Twenty20).
What was not expected was the pathetic capitulation. The margins were overwhelming - 113 runs, eight wickets with 141 balls remaining, 50 runs and 125 runs. In each of the last two matches, Australia amassed 324 (for seven and for five). The West Indies could not bat through 40 overs in three matches and only once raise more than 200.
Australians once flocked in their hundreds of thousands to watch what was their favourite team. Now the smallest crowds on record turned up for the match.
Gayle's failure at the top (7, 0, 34 and 14), each time to his bogey-man, the strapping left-armer Doug Bollinger, was clearly a significant factor.
Without Sarwan and Chanderpaul, it exposed Travis Dowlin, Runako Morton, Lendl Simmons and Narsingh Deonarine for the modest players they are at this level. None seemed interested in buckling down, as Dowlin and Deonarine had done when given the chance in the Tests
In the circumstances, it was mystifying why Kieron Pollard languished down the list at No.6 and 7 until the last match.
While he has made his global reputation as Twenty20 hitter, the big Trinidadian has shown at regional level that he is more than just that. He compiled 174 against Barbados last year and averages 37 in first-class cricket, better than most of those previously preferred to him in the longer game.
With his controlled batting, stiff medium-pace bowling and sharp fielding he has at least provided one bright spot from this series.
Jerome Taylor and Fidel Edwards are already out of action with hip and spinal injuries. The sore ankle that eliminated Kemar Roach from the last three matches came as another major worry at a time when fast bowling stocks are in short supply.
He is an outstanding prospect who has just started his career. A long layoff, such as both Taylor and Edwards had soon after they began, would be a setback for him personally and for the West Indies.
There was apparently such a lack of confidence in Gavin Tonge, the third fast bowler in Australia, that he remained on the bench in all five matches, leaving Ravi Rampaul (another with a history of injuries) to carry the attack.
That Dwayne Smith shared the new ball with his unthreatening medium-pace prompted disturbing memories of Clive Lloyd doing the same in the early 70s before the arrival of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding et al.
A couple of Twenty20 matches remain in Australia until, as Williams might say, it's a blessing it's all over. Zimbabwe at home follow immediately. They are even further down the rankings than the West Indies but, if the attitude isn't right for their Twenty20 and five ODIs, more embarrassment could be on the way.
Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for nearly 50 years