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April 29, 2010
The next two weeks could provide a much-needed boost for West Indies cricket and while the success of the World Twenty20 as a whole will play a part in that, nothing would help more than a successful run by the home side. Providence was almost full for the warm-up match against New Zealand, but the hosts' batting collapse which threw away the match left a lot of people saying "here we go again."
However, Chris Gayle has pleaded with supporters not to panic and to give his team a chance when their campaign begins on the opening day of the tournament against Ireland. It's a match they can't afford to take lightly, but if they avoid an upset they will go a long way towards securing passage to the second stage and fragile confidence will have been given a timely boost.
West Indies' demise on Wednesday evening under the lights had a familiar feel to it. When Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul were adding 68 for the first wicket all was under control - with Gayle comfortably clearing the stands with one huge blow - but then the wheels came off once the captain departed.
"I've been stressing about it over and over again so I don't know what else I can do at this moment in time," Gayle said. "I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt that we'll turn it around. Hopefully this tournament will be that occasion. Give me that chance to come here and say we've done something differently and the guys have stepped up.
"Maybe we took things for granted and we ended up losing the game. It wasn't the start we wanted leading into the competition but we need to put that behind us and concentrate on the Ireland game."
Gayle knows that the public will accept nothing less than a successful event for West Indies and they are showing their commitment to the team early on by helping strong pre-tournament ticket sales. After the debacle of the 2007 World Cup it will be a relief to see full, excitable stands at the grounds and the long-suffering fans deserve something to smile about.
"There's pressure for us to deliver, we are at home and the expectation is high," Gayle said. "We know the conditions well and there shouldn't be any excuses. But in Twenty20 every team should have a chance of winning so we shouldn't be favourites at the start.
"It will be good for the Caribbean and I'm sure they will enjoy at atmosphere. We did well in the last tournament by reaching the semi-finals. Neither tournament so far as been won by the host so it will be a tough ask for us, but it is achievable. We have the power to do it with bat and ball. We aren't looking too far ahead, but are backing ourselves to get the job done."
Gayle believes that lessons have been learnt from three years ago and this time the world will see the true Caribbean flavour on show. "It is important based on the last World Cup held here which didn't go too well," he said. "That was based on the ticket pricing and I think we will get a different occasion this time with a lot more locals coming down so it will be huge for us. The people love their cricket and the atmosphere should be great."
Just to make Gayle's job that little bit harder the West Indies camp has been hit by injury problems on the eve of the tournament. Jerome Taylor, the pace spearhead, is struggling with shoulder and ankle concerns while Sulieman Benn, who has been a surprise weapon with the new ball in recent times, also has a shoulder problem. Kieron Pollard missed the warm-up match against New Zealand with flu, but is expected to recover in time for the opening game.
"We have some niggling injuries from the last few days and they are a concern." Gayle said. "So we are on the back foot a bit and will have to wait and see what happens."
However, for all the injury problems and form issues, in Gayle West Indies have a man capable of winning a match on his own. Ideally, the captain would like others to help him shoulder the burden but - contrary to his often laid-back appearance - he is a proud cricketer and don't be surprised to see him take the opening day by storm. It would be the perfect start.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?