Brian Lara believes the upcoming IPL will play a "huge" role in deciding if Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo should play the T20 World Cup later this year or not. Given their age and the injury issues Gayle, 40, and Bravo, 36, have been facing over the last few years, Lara said a gruelling tournament like the IPL will be a good indicator for the West Indies selectors to identify the players for the team's preparations in the subsequent months.
"I think the IPL is going to be a huge point or signal for who is actually going to carry on," Lara told ESPNcricinfo in an interview, when asked about Dwayne Bravo and Gayle. "It's still going to be five months after the IPL for the World Cup. Fitness levels are very important, but a gruesome tournament like the IPL is going to tell the West Indies selectors who are the players that they really need going into the last four months of preparation for the World Cup."
While Dwayne Bravo returned to the West Indies T20I side after over three years, to play against Ireland at home in January and then the Sri Lanka T20Is earlier this month, Gayle has been away from T20Is since March 2019 although he has been playing in the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) and the Mzansi Super League (MSL) in the last few months. Since the IPL last year, he has played 10 matches in the Caribbean Premier League, six in the MSL and four in the BPL, while also participating in the ODI World Cup and three home ODIs at home against India in August.
Lara spoke about the challenges left-hand batsmen Shimron Hetmyer and Darren Bravo are facing for being in and out of the team for different reasons. Hetmyer was dropped from the recent Sri Lanka tour for failing a fitness test, while Darren Bravo lost his place after poor scores, but returned for the Sri Lanka ODIs, in which he registered a top score of 39 in three innings. Lara said Hetmyer should take it up as a "personal challenge" to regain his fitness and learn from the example set by Virat Kohli.
"That's the challenge that everyone should take. People have challenges in different ways and Hetmyer, obviously, is a very talented cricketer, someone who plays all forms of the game for the West Indies," Lara said. "If he is unfit, as they say he is, he has to see it as a personal challenge. Fitness levels are so very important, and not just that, the fact that if you can face those - things that you see as a negative in your approach in your life, it's so very important. So if fitness is his problem, I would like to see him face that challenge himself and he'll be a much better cricketer. You've seen pictures of Virat Kohli as a young man, before he turned things around and he actually says that this is the reason [why he's performing well now]. That is an example for Hetmyer.
"Darren Bravo is someone who started his career with great potential, someone that everyone in the West Indies was looking forward to and see in terms of blossom into someone who can be one of our greats. [He] fell a little bit backwards but I still believe he has what it takes. I think he's struggling a little bit not in self-esteem but in terms of his confidence. I think he needs to get back that confidence, that borderline arrogance that you need as a batsman against all these tough bowlers around the world. And the minute he captures that, I think he's got the technique, he's got time on his hands to get back and really make a statement in world cricket."
"I like Nicholas Pooran, he's a left-handed batsman and I think that he's setting down and understanding his responsibilities more now," Lara said. "Shai Hope has done very well and I think he could play a part in the T20 World Cup, being that solid guy with a great technique that can hold the innings together. Those are the three players I'm really looking forward to seeing. Alzarri Joseph is someone who I look at and say 'this guy has got potential, he's a wicket-taker'. He is someone who I'd like to see do well."
Kieron Pollard, who took over the white-ball captain last year, is set to lead West Indies in the T20 World Cup and recently played a record 500th T20 of his career, against Sri Lanka, more than anyone else. Lara was upbeat about Pollard's captaincy, saying, "he has a very good head on his shoulders" and will "get the best out of" the team.
"It's a tremendous achievement first of all to play so much T20 games, it's unbelievable. Kieron Pollard has been around for quite some time. I remember his first game was 2007 for the World Cup. Obviously, he's played a lot of franchise cricket around the world and I think the experience he has gained under different captains…he has captained teams in franchise cricket around the world, he brings a lot of experience.
"What he also has is cohesiveness in the bunch of players that he is in charge of. I think everyone respects him, which is important and he has a very good head on his shoulder. [He's a] fair guy as well so I expect him to do very well for West Indies and I expect everyone to rally [around him]. The most important thing is a captain is as good as his team, and if he has support from his team - and a very talented team at that, especially in the T20 version of the game - I think he's going to get the best out of them.
"Later in the year for the T20 World Cup I feel the kind of squad that we have - Hetmyer, Pooran, Pollard himself, Dwayne Bravo, I see Andre Russell is back, [Evin] Lewis, I think we've got a group of players in which any one or two or three of them can turn things on and beat the best in the world at what they do. I think we've got a great chance and my biggest worry is that every other team will be worrying about the West Indies, and they're going to put their best foot against the West Indies. And I hope that the guys are up for the challenge. I don't think we are going to be dark horses in the World Cup. I think everybody is going to look at the West Indies as the team to beat."
Vishal Dikshit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo