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Top Performer

Captain cool turns up the heat

Chris Gayle played a key role in West Indies' 2-1 series win over England both with the bat and as captain

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan

Chris Gayle played an untypical innings at Trent Bridge, but it served West Indies perfectly © Getty Images
The match was already in the bag, but when Chris Gayle swooped low to his left to pluck Dimitri Mascarenhas's edge out of thin air at Trent Bridge, and sprinted halfway to the boundary in celebration, it was a release of weeks of tension for West Indies' Mr Cool. "The curfew is off tonight," he grinned during the presentation after his team came from behind to claim the one-day series 2-1, and who could blame him.
Gayle isn't a man who likes being told what to do - so news of West Indies' early nights while on tour didn't go down too well - but on the evidence of the last two weeks he certainly doesn't mind dishing out the orders. It was the strongest possible riposte to the board members who didn't want him in charge of the one-day side, as he turned a demoralised bunch of cricketers into a cheerful, exuberant force. During the Test series they hardly said a word, but throughout the one-day matches there was constant chirp to the England players and it clearly got under their skin.
Ironically, given the issue Gayle had with the early bedtimes, his tour came to life when he put on the pyjamas and freed his arms (and his mind). A 37-ball 61 in the second Twenty20 was more like the old Gayle, but his vital 82 at Trent Bridge was something entirely different. From the moment he won the toss and decided to bat he was in complete control, firstly with the bat and then in the field as he marshalled his team.
Normally, if Gayle bats 42 overs in a one-day international, he would be approaching somewhere around 150 given his career strike-rate of 80. But Gayle took the responsibility of building West Indies' platform especially after their run-machine, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, had shocked all in attendance by falling for 33 - his lowest score of the tour. Gayle allowed himself only eight boundaries, none of which were wild heaves, and counselled Runako Morton when he started his vital innings by trying to launching everything into the adjacent Radcliffe Road.
Gayle worked out the game plan to a tee and knew that England's bowling and fielding would struggle in the final ten overs if West Indies had wickets in hand. When he chipped a return catch to Liam Plunkett mayhem ensued as Morton and Dwayne Bravo added 92 in less than eight overs. Only once in his 46 scores of 50-plus has Gayle had a lower strike-rate, but he'd played his role to perfection.
The team wanted to play for Gayle, as typified by Bravo bowling against medical advice, and that was no mean feat given the bedraggled state of affairs after the 3-0 defeat in the Test series
Gayle cultivates an image as someone who doesn't think an awful lot about the game. He's often stood at slip - and on this tour with hands in his pockets - seemingly in his own little world. But there is a sharpness behind that laissez-faire exterior. In the field he always keeps control; even in the defeat at Lord's West Indies' bowling and fielding was sharp, and he was quick to bring his strike bowlers back at the right moments to target key England players.
"We did a lot of planning and all the guys communicate well with each other," Gayle said after the series win. "We have a lot of team meetings and we know what responsibility each guy has. All the guys deserve it."
One of Gayle's successes was for each player to take responsibility - Morton is a prime example of someone who clearly has talent but needs direction - and vital performances came from each member of the side. The team wanted to play for Gayle, as typified by Bravo bowling against medical advice, and that was no mean feat given the bedraggled state of affairs after the 3-0 defeat in the Test series.
And all this came from a man who was a stand-in captain - the third leader West Indies had on their tour. Ramnaresh Sarwan was meant to have the job but injured himself in the Headingley Test and Daren Ganga was let go after the Tests, despite the protestations of the board.
"I am just the back-up captain right now and whenever he [Sarwan] comes back he will get the same support from the guys," said Gayle. "Because we have won the series a lot of people might be saying that Chris should continue as captain but I think Sarwan really deserves his chance." Whatever the long-term future of Gayle's captaincy, if his short stint at the helm has created the first shoots of a Caribbean revival then it's been an outstanding success.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo