Chris Gayle is targeting a third T20 world title as he returns to West Indies colours for the first time since the 2019 World Cup, and says that he is willing to fulfil whatever role is asked of him in the team's bid to retain the trophy in India this year.
Gayle, 41, has only ever opened the batting in T20I cricket and had almost exclusively batted at the top of the order in his franchise career before the start of the 2020 IPL. But after starting the tournament out of the Kings XI Punjab side, he hit 395 runs in nine innings at No. 3 for the franchise, averaging 43.88 and striking at 144.16.
In a press conference in Antigua on Monday, two days before the series opener against Sri Lanka, Gayle said that he was happy to bat wherever Kieron Pollard and Phil Simmons asked him to, saying that he would be "the best in the world" regardless of where he came in. He is one of four openers in the 14-man squad, along with Evin Lewis, Lendl Simmons and Andre Fletcher.
"It seems like I'm the No. 3 specialist now," he joked. "It was a role that the coach, Anil Kumble, asked me to play. He did mention it before the IPL actually started, which I had no problem with and then eventually, when I actually got the chance, they wanted my experience at No. 3 because Mayank [Agarwal] and KL Rahul were going great guns at the time.
"It's not a problem. I'm good at playing spin, I'm as good at playing fast bowlers as anyone as I'm an opener. But with West Indies cricket, whatever role they want me to play, I'm willing to play that particular role. We haven't fully discussed it but I'll get a bit of a heads up and work out what to look forward to in this particular series and down into the World Cup.
"If it's opening, I'm ready, No. 3, No. 5 - I'm pretty much flexible. I will still be the best No. 5 in the world, best No. 3 in the world."
Gayle admitted that he had considered walking away from the game, and that he had planned to focus his efforts on the franchise circuit as he heads into the twilight of his career, but that he found it impossible to turn down a West Indies call-up because "that's where my heart is".
"I thought about actually walking away from the game and then people said: 'No, don't do it, don't do it. Stay and play as long as possible.' So I decided I'm actually going to continue playing. I wasn't actually thinking down this road. I was like, I'm going to play franchise cricket, entertaining people as much as possible, and whatever is left to offer within the game from Chris Gayle, I want to exploit around the world.
"When I got the call and they asked if I'm willing and interested, I said: 'Yes, I want to play for West Indies'. That's where my heart is. I'm never going to turn down anything pertaining to West Indies cricket at this particular time. So I came back from Pakistan to be a part of the set-up leading into the World Cup so we can have a unity within the group, and then hopefully we can win this T20 trophy.
"At 41, that's what actually gets me through on a daily basis: it's more mental than physical to me. It's the willpower of the mind. The mind still wants to be out there and be out there on the park, still executing from a batting point of view and still having fun. That's what gives me that extra drive to continue playing. If the mind stops operating like that for me, then I'd have to ask myself a big question there, but for now, it's the mindset.
"The mindset is still good. I'm still looking after myself, I still do my training. Most people say 'are you on a diet?' I still eat properly, I still eat what I want, I still have my fun. I make sure I have a clear mind at all times. Once you have a clear mind you can be free to do whatever you want."
Gayle wants 'three T20 titles under my belt'
Gayle said that while his short-term ambition was to win this month's three-match series against Sri Lanka, the "bigger picture" was all about defending West Indies' world title. Gayle is one of eight men who won both the 2012 and 2016 finals, and said that he hoped his return would not distract from the team's long-term preparations for the tournament.
"I know being back, it might be a little bit of attention, but I don't want it to go in that regards to be honest with you," Gayle said. "We're looking at things as a team point of view. Pollard is a very strong captain [and] we have a lot of very, very good-quality players within the team. I want to win the series. I want to get off to a good start. It's really good to be back. Hopefully I can perform, help the team, and put the team in a winning position.
"I want to accomplish, starting off by winning the series, but the bigger picture is actually to get three T20 titles under my belt. That's actually the goal I'm setting in my head by winning the T20 World Cup. We have quite a few series coming up and we have a lot of cricket leading up to that. We'll try and take as much as possible out of these series coming up.
"The World Cup is still a long way off but by the time you quint [blink] it's World Cup time. So we have to try and keep the energy, keep fit, be ready and show the region what we are capable of with these particular guys."