For the third time in four seasons, Chris Gayle has been linked to South Africa's domestic T20 competition but this time it seems he may actually play in the event. Gayle signed for the Dolphins for 2011-12 and 2013-14, but injury kept him out of the event. This time, he will be attached to Lions and will be one of six international signings for a competition that is searching for a higher-profile.
Gayle is set to join Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Darren Sammy, Andre Russell and Craig Kieswetter as the headline players for the event. Each South African franchise has only managed to add one overseas player to the squad although there was speculation they would be more. Kumar Sangakkara was in talks to join Lions but had to withdraw to join Sri Lanka's ODI outfit for their trip to India and Kevin Pietersen, who was in South Africa last week to play in a sixes tournament and was rumoured to be considering appearing in the twenty-over competition, does not seem to have been snapped up.
Despite that, tournament director Graeme Smith, was pleased to see the level of interest in the South African event. "In my discussions with all the superstars, it has been satisfying to note their eagerness to play in here, as they regard South Africa as one of the best cricket leagues in the world," Smith said.
Doubtless if Gayle participates this time, it would underline that notion and all indications are that he will. "It looks very promising that Gayle will play for us. We have sent him the contract and we hope to finalise things in the next 24 hours," Greg Fredericks, CEO of Lions, told ESPNcricinfo. "We know that if he is firing on all cylinders, he could be a game-changer."
Lions were aware of Gayle's twin pull outs from Dolphins and have been meticulous in confirming Gayle's availability for them. "We were obviously a bit concerned about what happened last time with the injuries and we made sure to check that he is fit and ready to play, and he is," Fredericks said.
Gayle will be available for the entire competition, like his West Indies team-mates, apart from Bravo, who will miss the first match. West Indies have no fixtures during the competition, which runs from November 2 to December 12. Their next international assignment is in South Africa - a three-Test, three-T20 and five-ODI tour which starts on December 17. The only possible clash for West Indies players in the twenty-over tournament will be if they are required to play in the tour match in South Africa, which is pencilled in for December 10-12, or be part of a pre-series camp.
However, a cloud continues to hang over West Indies' future because of the ongoing dispute between the players, the board and the players' association over payment structures. Earlier this month, West Indies pulled out of their India tour and the falling-out has yet to be resolved.
That means South Africa's international summer remains uncertain. West Indies are the only team due to tour to the country and one insider said that after last season's curtailed visit by India, if the calendar was affected again, it would be "a disaster" for the venues. As things stand, none of them have received any information on the status of the tour but, as a source said, all are "hopeful it will be sorted out and not affect the quality of the cricket that will be played this season".