West Indies news February 18, 2014

Gayle hopes to find right combination with Smith

Chris Gayle is aiming to forge a solid opening combination with Dwayne Smith as West Indies prepare for the defence of their World Twenty20 title with a couple of warm-up games against Ireland, starting on Wednesday in Jamaica.

Gayle, who is raring to return from a hamstring injury sustained in India that ruled him out of the New Zealand tour, said he was pleased with what he saw of Smith from the Nagico Super50 where he was named the Most Valuable Player. With Johnson Charles and Lendl Simmons also in the running to open, Gayle said the competition for top-order spots was healthy.

"This partnership's a reality. He (Smith) is in good form and it would be nice to have a Dwayne Smith atop your batting order. He can get the pressure off you," Gayle told ESPNcricinfo. "His form is spot on and we're all happy to have him back. It would give me room to bat a bit more openly."

Gayle admitted West Indies needed to improve their batting up front and lay a proper foundation, something they struggled to do in India and New Zealand. "I want to get off to a good start and set the foundation. This is critical," he said. "There's a good, fast outfield here (at Sabina) and there's some bounce on the pitch so there is something for the bowlers as well. I practiced with Jamaica here for the Super50 also."

Gayle said he expected the players to step up in front of the home crowd, pointing to the returning Marlon Samuels and Krishmar Santokie as some of the players he believed would fare well.

"We have Santokie, Marlon's back and (Andre) Russell too. Santokie's done pretty well and he was the best bowler in the CPL so it's good for him to be given a crack at it in front his home-crowd.

"This is a big boost for us going into the World T20s. West Indies have a lot of cricket to play leading into this tournament so we're just looking to get past this (Ireland) series."

Gayle said Ireland were a plucky team that had proven in the past that they shouldn't be underestimated. On his own condition, Gayle revealed he was "99% fit" but maintained that he would only gradually ease back into the team after assessing his body.

"It's good to be back again and I'm looking forward to the first game and getting that feeling back out there in the middle again. I haven't trained this intensely for a couple months so I hope to get a kickstart and get back into the groove of things as soon as possible."

Renaldo Matadeen is a sportswriter and social media manager for ESPN Caribbean. He tweets here