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February 25, 2009
How the worm has turned. On England's last visit to this ground in 2004, Chris Gayle was bowled by Steve Harmison late on the second day after he had thrashed three typically aggressive boundaries. It was an impetuous innings which didn't serve his team well and a day later West Indies were staring at a thumping eight-wicket defeat.
Five years on and a far more mature Gayle leads a West Indies team that holds a 1-0 lead in the current series. A win here and they will regain the Wisden Trophy for the first time since letting it slip away in 2000. Since the time they relinquished the prize, with a defeat at The Oval, they have barely challenged England - until this tour.
"We are in a position to turn it around, just like in the first Test in Jamaica and hopefully it can be the same here in Barbados," Gayle said. "Hopefully we can put up a good fight after the last Test. We aren't accustomed to being in these positions over the last few years and we need to try and build on this. Take it session by session and the first day of any game is very important." The positives vibes in the West Indies camp would have been very different if one more wicket had fallen in Antigua. They were a distant second best for most of the game and Gayle admitted they need to move on.
"The disaster at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium changed things and the switch to the ARG put us on the back foot," he said. "It wasn't to our advantage. But we are still 1-0 up and need to move into this game. We have to come out and hit the ground running. In the last game we were at bit flat, that's true, so this time around we need to be positive. This game can determine the series."
West Indies have shown faith in the same squad from Antigua although there is pressure to make changes. Devon Smith has underperformed as opener and in the middle order, while the returns have been low with the ball for Daren Powell, who was their batting saviour in Antigua. Gayle, though, is eager to bring some stability to the team.
"We don't just want to chop and change," he said. "These guys have experience, but it's good to go into a selection meeting and have some tough questions. Lendl Simmons has been in terrific form and Lionel Baker has picked up wickets, but it's about coming up with the right formula and not trying to change things too much."
Yesterday, coach John Dyson said he wanted the team to use the massive travelling England support as motivation and Gayle agreed it would be nice to see some more locals turn out. "We can look at it as though we are playing at Lord's. We saw a similar thing in Antigua as well. It would be nice to have some local supporters in the arena as well but it seems like it is turning into a business. That is out of our hands, we just have to concentrate on things in the middle."
After a period in the 1980s and 90s where West Indies didn't let go of the Wisden Trophy, the last decade has been all about England domination. For this West Indies side to turn that run around would be a significant feather in the cap of captain and coach. "It would be a turning point," Gayle said, "but it's a long corner to turn and we still have two more games to go.
"Winning this series would be tremendous for us. Playing against England is always a big fight and the challenge is always there. There's no doubt at all; we can pull it off."
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