Chris Gayle has shrugged off criticism of his late arrival in England ahead of Wednesday's first Test at Lord's, and claims he is fully focussed on defending the Wisden Trophy after West Indies' memorable series win in the Caribbean in March, despite having a mere 48 hours to switch from 20-over to five-day mode.
After a 12-hour overnight flight from Johannesburg, Gayle landed in England at 6.45am on Monday morning, and linked up with his squad at Lord's later that same day after resting at the team hotel for barely seven hours. His decision to stay back in South Africa and play one final IPL fixture for the Kolkata Knight Riders attracted raised eyebrows from his coach, John Dyson, but Gayle himself dismissed the controversy with typical insouciance.
"I was due to come over on May 3, but since the practice game [against England Lions at Derby] finished then, I asked if I could stay," Gayle said. "I got permission to play the IPL game on the 3rd, because it wasn't a big gap in between. If I had come here then, practice would have been at 2pm so I don't see much of a difference actually. I slept comfortably and I'm feeling fresh. What difference will a couple of hours do?"
Gayle's late arrival was greeted with surprise by his opposite number, Andrew Strauss, who has himself had to deal with late arrivals from the IPL in Kevin Pietersen, Ravi Bopara and Paul Collingwood, although by arriving back in the country on Friday, those three did at least have the weekend to overcome their jetlag.
"What's important is that Test cricket gets the attention it deserves, and that means that people prepare themselves properly for any Test they play," said Strauss. "You don't want Test cricket to be devalued in any way, shape or form. There's a line there, and we certainly wouldn't want our players to be arriving two days before a Test. From our point of view we're trying to avoid going too far over that line
"This is a problem that's pretty unique to England," added Strauss, "because we are the only team playing at this time of year. So the relationship between the ECB and IPL has to be a good one and a clear one. We don't want a situation where international cricket is competing against the IPL. That would be unhealthy for the game, unhealthy for the IPL, and most of all, unhealthy for future of Test cricket."
"That's his point of view and you have to accept that," said Gayle. "From my point of view we are all different, and it's about who can be ready physically and mentally for a situation like this. We've flown long distances before, practiced for one day and gone straight into an international game. The challenge is always there, so whatever happened in the last couple of games we should try and forget. The real thing starts tomorrow."
"I got permission to play the IPL game on the 3rd, because it wasn't a big gap in between. If I had come here then, practice would have been at 2pm so I don't see much of a difference actually." Chris Gayle on his late arrival
Nevertheless, Gayle's absence from West Indies' preparations has been far from ideal. While his team-mates have struggled to acclimatise to the unique conditions of early-season England, losing by ten wickets up at Derby, the captain has been reduced to following their fortunes on the internet and preparing for the chilly weather by, as he put it, "wearing one shirt" during his IPL performances.
"But we all knew this situation would happen," he said, referring to the agreement to take part in the England tour which was only finalised back in November. "Our IPL players were available for the full tournament, but then this tour came up on us. We knew the situation and discussed it with the board members. They gave us permission to be back at a certain time and it's nothing new.
"There was debate about it which has been clarified and sorted out," he said. "When I heard about the tour I scratched my head a bit, but realised it was another chance to represent West Indies, so there was no way I could avoid coming here to England. It's an honour and a privilege to lead an entire nation."
Gayle led West Indies with pride in the Caribbean, scoring two centuries in the five Tests - the first to set up the decisive victory in Jamaica, the second to defend their 1-0 lead in the final match in Trinidad. But, despite having had some practice against the swinging ball during this season's bowler-dominated IPL, he admitted that the conditions in England in May are unlike anything he could expect to encounter anywhere else in the world.
"International cricket is totally different in these conditions and hopefully we can put up a good fight," he said. "It's going to be tough, even more challenging than back home but we are up for the situation. We are all aware of the conditions and expect these things. A few of the guys have played a lot of cricket over here, and a few others have played some league cricket. But the first day can determine the outcome of the Test. We need a good start and we can build on it."
The last time Gayle arrived in England at such short notice was ahead of the Tsunami Relief fixture at Lord's in June 2005, when he was ushered straight off the plane and into the starting line-up, and duly struggled in an innings of 4 from 17 balls. Should he prove similarly scratchy this time around he will doubtless come in for criticism, although one man who sympathises with his situation is the former West Indies captain, Richie Richardson.
"I don't think it's a problem, because the arrangement was already known," Richardson told Cricinfo. "A lot of cricket is being played these days, and as long as the guys are in touch and good nick, then it's no problem. Ideally you'd want everyone to be together as early as possible, but the most important thing is to get on with the job and get into the swing of things. Gayle is accustomed to playing with the guys, and I'm sure he'll adapt quickly."