West Indies in England 2012 June 14, 2012

Gayle back to be West Indies' best


Chris Gayle was strolling around in Tino Best's shirt ahead of West Indies' opening NatWest Series international against England. Best might have the surname but Gayle has the reputation. "BEST" communicated emphatically enough that, after a 15-month absence, West Indies' most domineering batsman is back in the fold.

With Gayle one of a host of destructive batsmen back for West Indies for the one-day leg of the tour and Kevin Pietersen having entered premature retirement from England limited-overs duty, it is possible to present West Indies, after their recent drawn series against Australia, as strong favourites, only for the usual tale of unsettled weather to bring England hopes of swing and seam and a potential get-out clause.

England would be well advised to protect their sanity by not studying too many statistics on six-hitting. There might be more to winning a cricket match than hitting a long ball, but the comparisons are striking. Draw up a likely West Indies top seven and they have hit 418 sixes in ODIs. Compare England's top seven and they barely muster 100. Gayle has hit more than the whole of the England side put together.

It is hard to imagine England debating in the bar who hits the biggest sixes; it would probably be frowned on as a sign of immaturity. According to Ottis Gibson, the West Indies coach, they do it all the time. "We have always talked about who hits the biggest sixes," Gibson said before listing eight contenders for the prize. Not surprisingly, when pressed he named Gayle as the most dangerous hitter of all. "Gayle is the best one-day batsman in the world and most destructive so my money will always be on him when it comes to hitting the biggest sixes."

Gayle's return has certainly been well timed for Hampshire. Their renaming of the Rose Bowl in a six-year deal with Ageas has been crucial boost at a time of great financial hardship; ticket sales also quickened the moment Gayle made his peace with West Indies, ensuring a near-capacity 14,000 crowd.

This is a very different West Indies side than the one that despite its impressive spirit was largely outplayed in the Test series. Gibson expects "about eight changes" adding: "At the start of the tour I said the one-day series provides us with our best chance of success and we still believe that. We believe we have got a great chance of winning games in this series.

"Gayle is a world class player and will strengthen us. He has always been a bit of a joker and prankster around the dressing room. He is his normal self and the team has always integrated guys very well. That has not changed. He has fitted in well and is raring to go."

Gayle's stand-off with the West Indies board has been so prolonged that Gibson would be naive not to recognise that his reintroduction to the squad has needed careful handling. But as England would testify in Pietersen's absence, if handling a star player can be awkward, compensating for their absence can be harder still.

"I'm not worried about the players coming through. I know what I'm capable of. My Test career is in my own hands."
Ravi Bopara

"Gayle has had his say," he said. "He said what he wanted to say and got things off his chest. He has seen the new environment. He has seen what we are trying to do. I am sure that coming back he will buy into it. We have spoken and he is very much on board with what is going on.

"It's a big thing to lose your best player. KP has been good in the last two one-day series and they were trialling him at the top of the order. It seemed it was going to work but now they have to put someone else in that spot and hope that person has the form KP had. Bell is very different and he is also a very capable replacement. We know we still have to work to get him out.

"Nothing KP does takes me by surprise. He is his own man and does what he wants to do whenever he wants to do it. That is his character. I am sort of surprised he is in such good form and chose to walk away from a format he likes.

"I kept playing until I was 38 because I loved game so much. It is disappointing to see a great player walking away from the game at a young age. But he is his own man and he makes his own calls. When he is sitting at home watching on TV he might miss it."

Ravi Bopara has rarely looked more hangdog before turning out for England. It could be that his endless run of misfortune makes him fear that, at 27, his international career is slipping away, not that he admits it, or it could just be that he expects to bat No. 4 in the first ODI against West Indies at West End on Saturday. Somebody told Bopara that he was batting in the "glamour position". Problem position would have been more accurate.

With Pietersen's retirement, England's 50-over plans are based around a top order of Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott, all very fine players, but all unlikely to leave Bopara with too much slack when he comes in to bat. The onus could be on Bopara to play enterprisingly from the outset and his career suggests that he prefers time to settle in.

Bell is fulfilling the opener's role that Bopara himself would have preferred to get: "Opening is not a bad role for him with the field up and his sweet timing of the ball," he said. "He can pierce those gaps like anyone and we've got to back him."

Bopara's task is to perform ably enough in one-day cricket against West Indies and Australia over the next month to regain his Test place against South Africa. Jonny Bairstow's troubled start at No. 6 gives him the opportunity. "It would be great if I could score heavily in this series and the Australian series," Bopara said. "It would put me in a good place. I'm not worried about the players coming through. I know what I'm capable of. My Test career is in my own hands."

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Cricket on June 16, 2012, 16:23 GMT

    Anyone knows, why Cris Gayle is not playing the 1st ODI ? . . After all the noise about residual issues and that finally being resolved, still Cris Gayle not in the 1st ODI. Very Surprising.

  • John on June 16, 2012, 8:11 GMT

    @godfreyse on (June 15 2012, 13:38 PM GMT) From what I read , the qualities you put in your post were part the reason for Gibson's fallout with so many players. Gibson had a high standard of workrate/intensity etc and some of those players didn't want to do that. As I've out before WI have been more competitive with the current (so called inferior) line up than they were with the so called better players so either the so called better players weren't that much better or Gayle is getting that much more from the so called inferior players

  • Nandha on June 16, 2012, 5:36 GMT

    Amla n AB r d best... cant decide who.. Its like deciding b/w vanilla n chocolate..consistency is d key n they both hv it... Amla scores in the PP overs with new ball.. while AB scores boundaries easily in the middle overs when many struggle...they hv many century stands b/w them... being an indian myself i wud say kohli is way far behind than these two.. although the rankings suggest otherwise...i dont knw what the fans see in dhoni to consider him the best odi batsman.. the foundation wud hv been laid already by the top order sachin,sehwag,gambhir... he comes into the crease n scores at a strike rate of 30-40 for the first 30 balls he faces.. then leaves it to the last over n hits a fancy helicopter shot.. n fans say he is the best finisher to ever played... CRAZY!!!... "Hey ottis gibson!!! Follow only domestic leagues eh?? I think its time already for you to start watching international cricket"

  • Rob on June 15, 2012, 21:56 GMT

    Mahmood Butt whoever wins the T20 game will whitewash the other as they are only playing one game!

  • Robin on June 15, 2012, 14:19 GMT

    In reply to Charlie 101: it's only now you realise Gayle has a huge ego?...In the case of Gayle wearing Tino "Best" shirt, is a indirect sign to England's bowlers that he's back and with alot of success in the t20s, is hungry to prove that he can maintain the same menacing form in the 50 over format. Whether he can back that up or not, remains to be seen. All banter and mindgames i guess, we'll see how the England bowlers bowl to him in this series.

  • Godfrey on June 15, 2012, 13:38 GMT

    Having said his piece about Gayle, Ottis has his best opportunity to take WI back to its winning ways. I do hope WI play all their IPL players, in the 1st ODI match. Play them not for their lusty hitting but for the foll. ingredients they bring to the table, compliments of the IPL.1.A strong sense of professionalism. 2.A high degree of 'cricketing' discipline. 3. The intense competitiveness. These r all required in order to start winning. The talent is already there. Openers Gayle & DR Smith, etc.

  • Dummy4 on June 15, 2012, 12:57 GMT

    bar intervention by weather,should be a good series.W.I has the team 2 beat england,jus need to bring their mental aspect of their game into good effect. remember d game is decided on d field of play and eng r at home in home conditions. d return of gale should be a huge boost forW.I d series sparks some interest 2 me given d make-up of d w.i team and eng without kp.

  • Charles on June 15, 2012, 11:57 GMT

    Gayle has a huge ego , hence his shirt with the "best" on it. His team mates must be thrilled to have him back strutting around the playing field. I thought the WI board was to blame but see it differently now

  • Alex on June 15, 2012, 11:21 GMT

    Chris , a lot is on your head , so you better deliver.

  • Dummy4 on June 15, 2012, 11:14 GMT

    Looking at the ODI batting records in last few years hashim Amla is the best ODI batsmen by a big margin: http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/records/282911.html

    Although Ryan Tendo is even above Hashim but he more often than not plays against easier teams so I would rate Hashim as best

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