West Indies v New Zealand, 1st Test, Antigua, 2nd day July 27, 2012

Welcome back, Chris Gayle

Subash Jayaraman in Antigua
Chris Gayle made a successful return to Test cricket after an 18-month absence, leading West Indies with a half-century in Antigua

Dot, dot, four, four, four, four.

Six balls were all it took to realise what cricket and West Indies had missed in the last 18 months. Facing Chris Martin, Chris Gayle started with two confident defensive shots, followed by four boundaries between mid-on and mid-off.

How would Gayle adapt to the rigours of Test cricket after a long hiatus from it due to contract and discipline issues with the WICB? During his time on the sidelines, Gayle had jetted around the world, plying his trade in in Twenty20 leagues. The damage he can cause in limited-overs cricket is undisputed. New Zealand had a taste of it in the two Twenty20s and the first couple of ODIs.

Test cricket, however, has its vagaries and if Gayle wasn't alert to them, it could have been his undoing. Would he be able to bat for sessions together, sustain his concentration through dry spells when run scoring was hard? Could he rein himself in when necessary and not get carried away?

After Gayle's 125 in the second ODI in Jamaica, New Zealand were able to restrict him and he scored only 32 in three one-dayers in St. Kitts. Had they figured a way to keep him quiet? If so, would they be able to in the Tests as well?

Those questions were answered every time Gayle swung his broad blade, scattering the bowling to all corners of the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. It was unfortunate there were only a few hundred people to watch one of the most belligerent batsman of this generation getting back in to the swing of things.

Since Gayle was lbw first ball to Suranga Lakmal in Pallekele in December 2010, and then left out of the side, West Indies have struggled to find a solid opening partnership. In 31 innings without Gayle, there were only two century opening stands, with 137 being the highest. Adrian Barath, Lendl Simmons, Kraigg Brathwaite, Dwayne Smith and Gayle's partner today, Kieran Powell, were all tried without much success.

In his first innings back, Gayle put on an unbeaten 145 with Powell and promised to deliver a lot more. It isn't just what Gayle does to opposition bowlers and their plans, but also the effect he has on his partners that West Indies have missed. "It's quite dangerous batting with Chris because you feel like you're going to get hit, but it's a big relief batting with Chris because it takes all the pressure off you, of scoring," said Powell, whose sedate half century was studded with eye-catching drives.

Gayle may be the quiet guy with a nonchalant attitude, but one shouldn't go poking at rattlesnakes to see if they will bite, least of all someone on debut. After Neil Wagner ran the length of the pitch on his follow through and seemed to say something to Gayle, three of the next five deliveries were thrashed to the boundary and Wagner was soon out of the attack. Powell had a ringside view. "At one point, I heard [Neil Wagner] tell Chris something and I don't think that's a very smart thing from him," he said. "If you want to be in Test cricket for long, you wouldn't do that."

Any thing pitched up vanished. Anything wide enough for the piston arms to be freed was walloped. After New Zealand's three-man pace attack was battered, Ross Taylor was forced to bring on Daniel Vettori sooner than he would have anticipated. A routine bunt towards long-on brought up Gayle's half-century. West Indies were 72 for 0 in 14 overs at tea with Gayle on 51 off 40 balls.

Gayle had his share of luck, though. He was on 36 when a straightforward chance off Doug Bracewell was fluffed by an over-eager Daniel Flynn at point. A couple of inside edges also rolled past the stumps.

As the ball got older and New Zealand exerted a certain amount of control through Vettori and Kane Williamson, Gayle was happy to just knock it around and play for time, finishing the day unbeaten on 85. He'd scored 34 off his last 84 deliveries. A big hundred beckons.

Welcome back Christopher Henry Gayle. Test cricket missed you.

Subash Jayaraman is a freelancer, blogger and podcaster based in Pennsylvania. He tweets here

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