Gayle the key to Windies' transformation
Along with the maxim attached to even sporting surprises that God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform or the more mundane that cricket is a funny game, there were clearly other, more realistic factors involved in the rare and remarkable West Indies victory over South Africa in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
As far as the players who pulled it off were concerned, the most telling influence was the leadership of Chris Gayle. And the story behind that is something of a marvel in itself.
From Marlon Samuels, whose abundant potential has withered under a succession of regimes, to Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the self-effacing, single-minded run-machine seldom sidetracked by the myriad controversies that have destabilised West Indies cricket, Gayle's captaincy has been identified as bringing new strength to the team.
"To be honest, whenever you have a leader who can motivate people and doesn't discourage them, that is a true leader who will always get support, even from a person who believes in himself," Samuels said after his scores of 94 and 40 earned him the Man-of-the-Match award for the first time in his 25 Tests.
"He'll speak to them and they'll understand what he is saying," he added. "They won't take it negatively but will take the positives from what Chris has to say."
Chanderpaul, whose brief stint as captain in 2005-06 was marred by infighting that followed the rift between the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the West Indies Players Association (WIPA), was even more explicit in his evaluation.
"His relaxed way of doing things has a good influence on the players," he said in an interview with a South African newspaper prior to the Test. "He is also not one who does things behind anyone's back.
"Under his captaincy, all the cards are laid on the table," Chanderpaul added. "If anyone has a problem, he is free to discuss it. Things are not done behind doors and are not bottled up. You know you can take the liberty to talk to him. He will listen and try to find a solution.
"This is something the players appreciate because they don't have to mope about things that itch. There is certainly a more relaxed atmosphere in the team, which also works in favour of the cricket we play."
|This is the first tour in years that has started without disagreement and rancour between the two organisations (WICB and WIPA), removing such unwanted distractions for the team|
It certainly seemed so in the body language, the disciplined bowling, the application of the batsmen, the sharp fielding and the overall teamwork over the four days of the Test. The recently-appointed vice-captain, Dwayne Bravo, has described Gayle as being "free from agendas and completely honest". Daren Powell has spoken along the same lines.
There are clearly other issues in the sudden transformation. New board president Julian Hunte's peace pact with the WIPA that involved placing the previously hostile chief executive Dinanath Ramnarine on the board has meant that this is the first tour in years that has started without disagreement and rancour between the two organisations, removing such unwanted distractions for the team.
The return of Clive Lloyd as manager and the arrival of the new coach, John Dyson, might also have had some effect although Lloyd has been there before and Dyson has only been there for less time than a Chanderpaul marathon. It is Gayle's relationship with his men that has been the main source.
It began when he took over, as he has done here, for the limited-overs matches on the tour of England last summer following Ramnaresh Sarwan's injury - and only after the selectors' recommendation to install him had been rejected by the then board president Ken Gordon and his executive committee.
It took a vote of the entire board, after the selectors made known their intention to resign, to reinstate Gayle who proceeded to let the world know what he thought about it all, and then to lead the team to a share of the two Twenty20 Internationals and a 2-1 triumph in the ODIs.
The difference in every department after the 3-0 hiding in the Tests was as marked as it was in the Port Elizabeth victory. When Sarwan, fit again, returned to the helm for the ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa in September so did all the old slackness.
Another Sarwan setback has brought Gayle back again with the same results as the first time. It is hardly simply coincidental. There is clearly something about the languid, 28-year-old Jamaican that, for all his super cool image and seeming lack of concern, makes him the leader West Indies cricket has needed for so long but sought to no avail.
The honeymoon can't last, of course. It never does. Tougher times are inevitably ahead, perhaps as soon as the next couple of weeks in this series. A barren patch with the bat, a couple of questionable tactical decisions, superior opponents and much more besides will test Gayle's resolve and his players' response to him.
Yet his temperament is such that his philosophy is unlikely to change. This is how he put it to the media following the Test: "I just tell it like it is. I'm not going to lie or anything. It's not something for you (the player) to take personally, regardless of what the case may be. The person will understand where I'm coming from and then look into himself and work to see how his situation can be bettered."
Simple, but effective.