Gayle's Test return 'very exciting' - Sammy
The West Indies captain Darren Sammy is confident the return of Chris Gayle will be the top-order boost his side needs to post winning totals in the Test series against New Zealand. Gayle is set to play his first Test since December 2010 when the two teams walk out in Antigua on Wednesday, and his absence over the past 18 months has left an enormous hole at the top of the order.
During the standoff between Gayle and the WICB, the West Indies Test side used five different opening batsmen and between them they managed only three half-century partnerships in 31 innings. This year the results have been even worse: during the series against Australia and England the West Indies opening partnerships averaged 14.45.
Gayle has played only one first-class match since his last Test but he showed no signs of rustiness against the red ball, crunching 165 from 155 balls for Jamaica against the Windward Islands in February. He also enjoys playing New Zealand; his Test average of 74.54 against them is his highest average against any country, and despite some low scores against them at the end of the recent ODI series he was comfortably the dominant batsman of the limited-overs portion of the tour.
"It's very exciting. I know he's looking forward to being back in white clothes as well," Sammy told reporters in Antigua ahead of the first Test. "Not just Chris but the entire team is looking forward to the Test series and hopefully we can continue the form we showed in the T20 and one-day series.
"Our opening position has been a spot of bother for us, but with the experience [of Gayle] back there hopefully we can see off the new ball and put a good total on the board. The new ball we have struggled for the last year or so. His experience, he can pass it on to the younger players. But at the end of the day you've still got to go out there and put the performance out there in the middle, because we've got a good side on paper but you still have to go out there and do the business."
The two-match series provides West Indies with an excellent chance to improve their recent Test record; the only one of their past 10 Test series they have won was against Bangladesh. They can also take confidence from the tour match over the past few days, when the New Zealanders narrowly avoided defeat against the WICB President's XI in a match in which several Test squad members performed strongly.
"We had five or six of our guys playing against New Zealand in the practice game. I think they did it well," Sammy said. "Kemar [Roach] came back from injury and he had a good bowl. [Shivnarine] Chanderpaul [made 51], [Narsingh] Deonarine scored a hundred, [Assad] Fudadin looked good. The guys who played during the one-day series have had a chance to go home and rest up and come back fresh."
One of those men who has taken some time off was the offspinner Sunil Narine, who was the Player of the Series in the ODIs against New Zealand and is the only specialist slow bowler in the West Indies Test squad. The visitors struggled against Narine's variations during the limited-overs games and Sammy said that while the challenge in Test cricket was different, Narine would again be a handful.
"[On] the type of wickets we play on in the Caribbean, spin plays an important role," Sammy said. "We have a world-class spinner in Narine, who proved that throughout the one-day and T20 competition that he's a handful here in the Caribbean. It's a different ball and batsmen don't have to attack him, but I back him to go out there and do well for us."