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T2021 W/C: Gayle’s last dance: in defence of the West Indies’ pick for the ‘Universe Boss’

“Yes, I want to play for West Indies—that’s where my heart is,” veteran West Indies cricket star Chris Gayle told ESPN, during an interview in March 2021. “I am never going to turn down anything pertaining to West Indies cricket at this particular time.

“[…] Hopefully I can perform, help the team, and put the team in a winning position… The bigger picture is actually to get three T20 titles under my belt; that’s actually the goal I’m setting in my head.”

Photo: Maverick West Indies cricket star Chris Gayle shows off his dancing feet.

From 23 October in Dubai, Gayle will get the opportunity to do just that. It seems fair to say that not everyone in the Caribbean is happy for him—a position that may be considered utterly reasonable or deeply unfair, depending on whether those sentiments are based on his recent batting average or his career as a West Indies cricketer.

Or, just maybe, the discontent at Gayle’s selection is both,  reasonable and unfair.

For starters, Gayle’s desire to wear the maroon cap well into his 40s would be a tribute to both the bonhomie of the current Cricket West Indies (CWI) organisation and his professionalism and ambition as an athlete, even before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Throw in the fact that Gayle’s prolonged ‘tour de force’ means subjecting himself to a regular battery of PCR tests and the sterile existence of life within a ‘bubble’, and his decision to keep going is closer to remarkable.

Gayle is, remember, one of the Caribbean’s wealthiest athletes.

Photo: West Indies veteran batsman Chris Gayle celebrates a T20I milestone achieved against Australia in July 2021.
(via CWI Media)

How can we rail against ‘mercenary athletes’ with unclear loyalties—a certain gifted spinner comes to mind—while, at the same time, castigating Gayle for postponing his retirement to answer the call of his team-mates and his region? 

You’d like Gayle to declare his innings, you say? You must be joking.

Every athlete who accomplished even half as much as the giant Jamaican would know the formula to take you through a dry patch is this: hard work, single-minded focus and a dartboard with the faces of every person who thinks you are past your best.

If West Indies captain Kieron Pollard, vice-captain Nicholas Pooran, evergreen all-rounder Dwayne Bravo and selectors Roger Harper, Miles Bascombe and coach Phil Simmons all believe Gayle has something to offer, then whose advice should he be expected to prioritise over theirs?

For all those reasons, I think Gayle must accept the invitation to travel with the West Indies to the United Arab Emirates and Oman for the T20 World Cup.

Photo: Cricket West Indies (CWI) lead selector Roger Harper.

Now whether that invitation should have been extended to the veteran in the first place, well, that is another story. If this goes horribly wrong, the villain of this tale ought not to be Gayle. Rather, it is the people who (mis)judged what he brings to the West Indies team.

Harper, whose brief requires level-headed analysis, looms large in this regard, although he is not the only one.

But suppose West Indies cricket fans are asking themselves the wrong question?

Is it really a case of whether Gayle deserves to go? Or should the question be this: is there anyone better?

I’m on shakier territory than most now. I am not a cricket writer—so, in this case, the selector to direct your wrath towards ought to be Wired868 editor Earl Best!

But if a cricket squad is a balancing act between batsmen, fast bowlers, spin bowlers, all-rounders, and wicket-keepers and if Gayle was selected as a batsman, well, who was the guy he kept out?

Darren Bravo, right?

Photo: West Indies batsman Darren Bravo gets more runs through the leg-side.

Well, if the glove does not fit… (If Gayle’s CPL average was an unflattering 18.8, Bravo’s was 16.1.)

So as hard-done as Jason Holder, Romario Shepherd and Odean Smith might feel about Harper’s final squad, none was competing directly with Gayle for a place.

It would be disingenuous of me to pretend not to hear your howls for the third umpire. 

“So DM Bravo is the only batsman you choose to compare Gayle with? That’s more rigged than a Gary Griffith poll!”

Well, is there any other name being mentioned? Ahhh, Sherfane Rutherford—the 23-year-old middle-order Guyanese batsman who played alongside Gayle for the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots this year.

While neither Gayle nor DM Bravo managed a single half-century in the 2021 CPL competition, Rutherford got three. The younger batsman finished the competition with an average of 28.1, which easily betters those of the senior citizens selected ahead of him.

Photo: St Kitts and Nevis Patriots batsman Sherfane Rutherford raises his bat after completing a half-century against Barbados Royals in CPL T20 action at Warner Park on 26 August 2021.
(Copyright CPL T20 Ltd 2021)

So why did Rutherford not get into the 15-man squad ahead of Gayle?

The CWI selectors’ World Cup squad, I noticed, has four top-order batsmen—Evin Lewis, Lendl Simmons, Andre Fletcher and Gayle—and a plethora of capable middle-order batsmen.

Might it be that, barring the selectors’ bizarre fitness claims, Gayle’s talents fit the need of the team better than Rutherford’s? (Whether the CWI selectors deserve the benefit of the doubt regarding their supposed fitness criteria for squad selection is another story.)

I lack the cricket nous to make that claim with any certainty.

Instead, I will point out that Rutherford’s T20I career so far comprises four innings with a high score of 26 and an average of 10.75. For all of Gayle’s unmistakeable struggles in the past five years, the veteran can point to a knock of 67 against Australia this July—a timely reminder from a fading force. 

Photo: West Indies batsman Chris Gayle lets loose during the third T20I against Australia on 12 July 2021.
(via CWI Media)

Rutherford’s promise is for the future but, for the selectors, the Jamaican must still feel right for the present.

It is ironic that Gayle’s last ton came at the 2016 T20 World Cup, when he scored 100 off 47 balls in the West Indies’ opener against England. 

For the rest of the tournament, Gayle’s returns were: 0 (vs Sri Lanka), 4 (vs South Africa), 5 (vs India), and 4 (vs England again in the final).

At that time, Gayle was 36. His figures did not suggest that he had much more to offer to the West Indies. And yet, five years later, here he is, preparing to board the World Cup flight again in a maroon blazer.

There is nothing particularly inspiring about Gayle’s selection. But blame that on either the lack of adventure of the selectors or the failure of his younger rivals to seize his place.

Photo: West Indies veteran batsman Chris Gayle takes the aerial route one more time.

If Gayle himself is guilty of anything, it is no more than unflinching loyalty to cricket in general and West Indies in particular as well as possessing terrific genes.

When Usain Bolt, Jamaica’s most famous athlete, won his first Olympic gold medal in Beijing in 2008, Gayle was 28 years old—and already had eight centuries and 30 half-centuries in Test cricket, 18 centuries and 37 half-centuries in the ODI format, and one century and two half-centuries in the T20 game that was just three years old.

In other words, Gayle was already an accomplished cricket star.

Eleven years later, Bolt retired with an unprecedented haul of eight Olympic gold medals and 11 World Cup championship titles—after being beaten in a final for the first time at the London 2017 World Athletic Championships.

Gayle, during that time, amassed another seven centuries and seven half-centuries in Test cricket (he retired from that format in 2014), four centuries and 11 half-centuries in ODIs and one century and 11 half-centuries in T20s.

Unlike Bolt, Gayle didn’t quit while the going was good.

Should he have? Honestly, it is none of our business.

Photo: West Indies cricket star Chris Gayle.

Why should he not want to play the game he loves for as long as possible? It is up to the respective cricket teams to decide whether he fits their plan.

When the ‘Universe Boss’ takes his guard representing West Indies on 23 October and glances towards the boundary, I will be hoping he clears its. And even if he doesn’t do so with the regularity of old —which, let’s face it, should come as no surprise—I shall not moan for Rutherford, Shepherd or Holder either.

Harper and co. felt the Jamaican deserved the place; now he has it. Selector and batsman will each have to account for that choice.

Why should the batsman be subjected to ridicule for it, though? Maybe, just maybe, the target should properly be the lead selector…

 

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About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the managing director and chief editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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