Minutes after West Indies had bowed out of the World Cup in a flurry of blazing strokes and crashing stumps, there was a buzz in the press conference room. There had been an announcement that Chris Gayle would follow Jason Holder. Gayle had top-scored for West Indies with a 33-ball 61, but West Indies had barely managed to beat Martin Guptill's 237, and it is highly unusual for the top performer of a vanquished team to come out to talk to the media.
Through the day there had been speculation about him. Had his back healed enough for him to turn up for the match? Journalists strained their eyes to spot him when the West Indians turned up for the pre-match warm-up, and keyboards started clicking the moment he was seen. When West Indies took the field, he was stationed at extra cover, mainly to stop the single. He dived gingerly a couple of times, once to his right and once to the left, but the ball eluded him both times. But when a catch came, he didn't fluff it, stretching to secure it after a wobble. Later in the innings he took another.
When West Indies started their near-impossible chase, he took off for a single off the first ball, beginning with a sprint and ending with a hobble. His second scoring stroke, nine balls later, was a pulled six hit so hard and so flat that had a fielder come into its path, he might have been carried away by it. The next ball was smoked over mid-on for a four. Three more sixes followed, in Daniel Vettori's first over, but wickets kept falling, and by the tenth over, West Indies were ahead of the near impossible run-rate requirement, but four down.
The contest was formally over in the 17th over when Adam Milne beat Gayle's drive with a ball that was pacy and straight. As Gayle walked off he paused to doff his bat at the crowd appreciative of his valiance. Knowing glances were exchanged in the media box: was this the end, then, for Gayle in West Indian colours?
After the match was over, he returned to toss out some of his kit - gloves, cap and pads even, into the stands. What signs could be more tell-tale? The announcement of his impending press conference appearance seemed like a mere confirmation. Fingers got active again. This time on smartphones.
"It's hard to say from the outside whether Gayle has lost the desire or discipline, or both, and what role the WICB, forever bumbling, forever capricious, and an object of derision in most parts of the cricket world, has played in it"
It turned out to be a hoax. Apparently Gayle was never meant to come to the press conference. The West Indies media manager, who was not the one making the announcement, was puzzled that tweets referring to Gayle's retirement announcement had already gone out. Minutes later Gayle spoke to ESPN's Barry Wilkinson and categorically ruled it out. He was available to play for West Indies in all three formats, he said.
But no, he wouldn't be turning out for them in the Tests against England. His back wasn't good enough. But yes, he would be playing in the IPL, due to start a little over a week after the World Cup.
Gayle hasn't signed a contract with the West Indian Cricket Board. That makes him free to play where and when he chooses. His participation in the IPL is still subject to a no-objection certificate from the WICB, but there is nothing to suggest that it will not be granted.
It is true, too, that Gayle looks in no shape for the rigours of Test cricket. But the question is - and only he can answer it with certainty - whether he has done enough, and cared enough, in recent years and months to be in shape for the longest form of the game.
Despite the appearance of casualness, there has always been an intelligence about Gayle's batting. In his pomp, he picked his spots, and more importantly, his bowlers. His assaults, despite their cavalier air, were calibrated on percentages. There were bowlers and balls that were given respect, and his hitting arc was clearly defined. This approach carried even to T20, which has had his affection in recent years. I once watched him score 85 off 50 balls for Royal Challengers Bangalore against Kolkata Knight Riders, where he played out eight dot balls against Sunil Narine while feasting against the rest.
But in recent times, with his mobility clearly restricted, his batting has seemed to be raging against the fundamentals. On the recent tour to South Africa he belted 90 off 41 balls to help West Indies chase 231 in a T20 international, roused apparently by the injustice in the treatment of his mates Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard by the selectors. Over the rest of the series, his batting was a series of flails and swipes from outside leg stump, and till he took advantage of a poor Zimbabwe attack in the World Cup to pile up a double-hundred, his highest score in the tournament had been 36.
It's hard to say from the outside whether he has lost the desire or discipline, or both, and what role the West Indian cricket board, forever bumbling, forever capricious, and an object of derision in most parts of the cricket world, has played in it. But at the moment Gayle, their most high-profile and mercurial player, is the personification of the West Indian cricket team: capable of delivering masterful performance when body and soul are in the right place, but mostly faltering.
While the drama over Gayle held sway, Jason Holder, all of 23, and given the responsibility of marshalling an unhappy troop containing four former captains in a World Cup campaign, gave an honest, sober and dignified press conference. He had taken a lot personally. "Been through a lot, there's been a lot of criticism, left right and centre, all over the place," he said.
It was easy to feel for him. Not all the criticism had been unjustified. His handling of the bowling resources, however thin, had been questionable. He seemed to captain by rote, making bowling changes according to a seemingly pre-defined plan rather than responding to situations. His bowlers had been taken for nearly 400 once, and more than that another time. They failed to defend over 300 against Ireland, and twice Holder failed to finish the quota of Jerome Taylor, his main wicket-taking bowler.
But he had been thrust into a job he had neither sought nor was prepared for. Rather than being a reward earned, it was a punishment. More than a leader, he was a victim of his cricket board's politics. It was a credit to him that he didn't wilt and didn't lose his grace. AB de Villiers handed him the worst pounding suffered by a bowler in a short spell, but he didn't shy away from the responsibility of bowling at the death in the matches that followed. He batted with spirit and fielded at the boundary to protect his slower men.
If West Indies cricket is serious about building a team - about the sincerity of this there is doubt - they will do well to stick with Holder. Gayle is part of the chequered past. Whether he will, or should, play Test cricket again is uncertain. But given support and time, Holder could blossom into a serious cricketer. Unlike Darren Sammy before him, he can hold his place in the Test side, so a team can be built around him.
Even through their years of despair, there is a sparkle to cricket when West Indies shine occasionally. That the region hasn't been producing cricketers with the pomp and majesty of the past is troubling enough, but failing to make use of whatever they have is a sin.