Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo
Ernest Hilaire, the West Indies Cricket Board's incoming chief executive, has expressed confidence that a full-strength West Indies squad will tour Australia later this year, but raised doubts over whether Chris Gayle will be the man to lead them. Gayle's comments regarding the West Indian captaincy and the future of Test cricket have remained with Hilaire, who feels the selection panel would be prudent to quiz the veteran batsman over his long-term leadership ambitions.
Floyd Reifer has captained the Windies in Gayle's strike-enforced absence but his recent performances suggest he will not retain his place if and when the region's senior players return. Denesh Ramdin was rated by the former West Indies coach John Dyson as a future international captain, but just which direction Clyde Butts' selection panel intend to take in regards to the leadership role remains unclear.
"It is for the selection committee to discuss and make a recommendation to the board," Hilarie told Cricinfo. "Chris has said in the recent past that he is not that interested in playing Test cricket anymore. I'm very open minded, and I am not sure what the selection committee is thinking. But I would have thought in light of recent reports it would be wise to ask him the meaning of his comments. Was it an emotional time? Was he stressed? Is it something he is now willing to look beyond?
"At the end of the day, it is difficult leading a team that hasn't been winning for a long time. Whoever has the job, they need the full support of the board and WIPA (West Indies Players' Association) in coping with the demands of the captaincy and have an environment that is conducive to him getting the best from his players."
Ricky Ponting this week echoed the sentiments of his chief executive, James Sutherland, in expressing fears that West Indies could announce an under-strength squad for the tour of Australia, much like it did for the disastrous bilateral series against Bangladesh in July-August. Butts recently issued an ultimatum for striking players to make themselves available for the regional limited-overs tournament next month or risk exclusion from the Australian touring party, and Hilaire was hopeful of a peaceful, if potentially awkward, reintegration process.
"The board has said from the start it wants all players to be available to tour Australia," he said. "I hope that all parties will show their commitment to West Indies cricket by ensuring that happens. That is what we are working towards. As with anything, there are no guarantees but we need a commitment from everyone that this is what we should work towards. There will certainly be a challenge in getting the players back together and playing as a cohesive unit. It will require strong leadership, but I am confident that it will be achieved."