Gayle admits possibility of Test retirement
West Indies opener Chris Gayle has raised the possibility of retiring from Test cricket if his fragile back cannot cope with the increasing workload in a crammed cricket calendar. Despite previous comments on the format, Gayle made clear that he was still passionate about playing Tests but said that he would assess his future immediately after the World Cup, when he sits down with WICB officials.
"I do [feel passionate about playing Test cricket], to be honest with you," Gayle said in an interview with Digicel Cricket, in Perth on Tuesday. "It is just that lately this back problem has kind of pushed me away a bit from Test cricket. To be able to go five days, it has been tough. I haven't sorted my situation yet, which is the back problem. That is another concern ... because I've been playing cricket straight on the road and really didn't get a chance to spend the time and give the back as much time to heal."
Gayle then spoke about his reluctance to go under the blade. "People say surgery but they say once you have surgery on your back basically your career can be over," Gayle said. "It would never be the same as well. Lot of thinking then."
Asked if there was a chance of him retiring before West Indies' next Test engagement - a three-Test series at home against England in April - Gayle did not rule that out. "It is a possibility. You never know," he said. But Gayle stressed that he would not take a big call like that in a hurry. "After the World Cup we will see what happens. Where Chris Gayle will actually head. Or you can sit and discuss and work out how we go about playing for West Indies cricket."
At 35, it is no surprise that Gayle is taking stock of the situation. As far back as 2009, he mentioned the possibility of curtailing his Test career. Having arrived in England for a Test series on the back of a season in the IPL, Gayle - West Indies captain at the time - said he "wouldn't be so sad" if the five-day format died out in, although he later played down the comments.
He subsequently went on to become the ninth West Indian to have played 100 Tests, although he has not featured consistently in the format. Since March 2010, West Indies have played 41 Tests but Gayle took part in only 18. In the last two years he has played eight of 15 Tests, with his last match being at home against Zimbabwe in September. He could not finish that series owing to the lower back injury which also ruled him out of the Test series in South Africa preceding the World Cup.
Recently Gayle and Sunil Narine declined the retainer offered by WICB. It did not surprise many considering both players are much sought after by domestic Twenty20 franchises around the world. But Gayle admitted that having a heavily packed cricket calendar in the long run cannot be beneficial for players. He agreed that having free time to spend with family and friends was crucial, something administrators had to pay attention to.
"That is important. That is something they can look into for sure, to give people a bit of time back home," he said. "This is our livelihood. This is our bread and butter still. At the same time you are going to drain yourself, you are not going to get the performances that you will normally see over the years consistently."
As an example he cited some of the West Indies players who played a whole tour of South Africa before arriving for the World Cup. "Some of the guys have been away from home for four months now. It has been tough. They played a Test series in South Africa and they leave from South Africa and come straight here . It is going to take a toll on your body. It is a tricky one."
According to Gayle, if the WICB administrators were serious, there was a way out: sit with the players, communicate and find a solution. Gayle suggested adopting a rotation system for certain players would prove to be useful.
"May be the board can come down and talk to players," he said. "Have confidence in players to be able to talk honestly about how they feel. If a player says, listen they want a break, don't take it personally. You can give a player a break. You can do the rotations system as well. I think Australia do that in some formats with their bowlers. We can look into that as well. Give the guys a chance by telling them they won't lose their place. Because a player says he wants to take a rest it doesn't mean he thinks he is bigger than the game."
It remains to be seen whether the West Indies selectors and director of cricket Richard Pybus would be open for discussions. Pybus' vision statement, approved by the WICB last year, included the crucial "West Indies first" point, which was put to test for the first time when Narine was omitted for the home Test series against New Zealand. The reason: the offspinner had failed to make it to the squad's mandatory training camp because he had to play the IPL final for Kolkata Knight Riders last May.
West Indies' home season includes the visits of England and then a two-Test series against Australia in June. Gayle is likely to put his IPL commitments above playing against England, since he is not contracted to the WICB, but may wish to feature against Australia after playing a full season for Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo