T2021 W/C: If the ‘Boss’ could play, why not the Prince? Why Lara was, inadvertently, right about Gayle

It is an intriguing idea. But I reject it. Out of hand. There is, as the Americans, no there there, dear.

Writing in April 2007, just before Brian Lara’s final white ball game for the West Indies in the World Cup of that year, under the headline ‘The last king of Trinidad’, Pakistan’s Rahul Battacharya says this:

Nobody made the game look better and few ever played it better.

Photo: West Indies legend Brian Lara in action against Australia.
(via Sportskeeda)

And in a 2016 edition of Cricket Monthly, Australia’s Ben Pobjie describes the Prince of Port-of-Spain thus:

[A] true artist, possessed of boundless creativity and unmatched aesthetic expression, yet also captive to the artistic temperament, arrogant, moody and prone to distraction.”

But, says the author, he ‘batted like an angry lord horsewhipping a servant; he didn’t just obliterate bowlers, he behaved as if it was sheer impertinence for them to even dare to bowl to him’.

What would Kieron Pollard’s West Indies, knocked out of the World Cup in the UAE with a match to go, not have given to have such a player in their ranks earlier today?

Climbed cricket’s Everest twice, ten years apart, a feat without precedent in the 135-year-old annals of the sport. 400 not out in a Test. 501 not out in a first-class game. Just short of 12,000 Test runs. Just over 10,000 ODI runs. Two Test innings over 300, making him one of an exclusive three-member club.

Photo: Brian Lara poses in front of the scoreboard after his first class record 501 not out for Warwickshire in 1994.
(via ESPN)

Nowadays, in an age when ‘brilliant’ rolls off the tongue of high-profile commentators every five minutes, describing the Prince of Port-of-Spain that way is nothing short of insulting.

Extraordinary? Perhaps. Peerless? That has the right ring. Genius? Eureka! That’s right on the ball. But he’d probably still deftly put you away backward of point anyway. Off the middle of the bat.

Or would he? He certainly would have done so in his day.

But that’s the issue, isn’t it? Does the Prince believe that, at 52, he can still produce the fireworks that lit up so many arenas when he was still at the height of his powers?

Does he believe that anyone can? Did he genuinely believe that, at 42, Chris Gayle, the second West Indian member of the exclusive Double 300-plus Club and the only member of the 14000-plus T20 runs Club, could? And more to the point, did he genuinely believe that the veteran should be given the chance because of what he was capable of in his prime?

Photo: West Indies batsman Chris Gayle (right) hits to the boundary during his 48-ball century against England at the 2016 T20 World Cup.
(Copyright Getty)

In jest, a friend of mine claimed to see Lara’s recent Star Sports assertion as his making a play for a pick. But then, in all seriousness, he revealed that he is of the firm belief that the Prince’s Chris-Gayle-should-not-be-dropped bomb wasn’t so much making the obvious point about what Gayle is or is not now capable of.

It is, he argued, as Michael Holding was so often at pains to point out during the Prince’s three stints as captain, yet another case of Lara eschewing the obvious merely as the one and only Brian Charles Lara is wont unwarrantedly to do.

The song and dance about all the value that Gayle brings to the team and the length of time he has served the region becomes completely irrelevant if you just look at the 15 available players and choose the best XI.

So the point the Prince was making, my friend told me, was about what NONE of the alternatives to Gayle is capable of.

In other words, if not Gayle, who?

Photo: West Indies captain Kieron Pollard (right) and veteran Chris Gayle have a chat during the 2021 T20 World Cup.
(via Gulf News)

Let us have a little look.

In theory, there were four players available as replacements for the prolific left-hander in the starting XI.

If Sunil Narine were on the squad, there would have been no problem. The hard-hitting off-spinner could have been moved up to the opening slot, Hayden Walsh Jr could have come in in Gayle’s stead and hey presto! Problem solved.

But with no Narine available as a pinch-hitter, that was not an option.

If Darren Bravo were in the 15, Pollard would have had to toss a coin to determine picking which top-order left-hander was the lesser of two evils.

Both their recent records say that you really can’t expect too much better than Gayle’s 13, 12, 4 and now 1 so far in the tournament suggest. But using purely cricketing criteria, the skipper would probably have opted for Bravo the Younger ahead of Gayle because he would not need to hide the Trinidadian in the field.

Photo: TKR’s Darren Bravo takes the catch to dismiss Jamaica Tallawahs batsman Rovman Powell during CPL action at Warner Park on 7 September 2021 in Basseterre, Saint Kitts and Nevis.
(Copyright Randy Brooks – CPL T20/Getty Images)

Can’t say the same for the ‘Universe Boss’. Although he has so far taken two catches in the tournament—one above his head at short-midwicket and another dropping low at short third-man—his lack of mobility means he almost always has to be, in cricketing terms, behind God’s back.

That Jason Holder came in to replace Obed McCoy and immediately claimed a starting spot speaks volumes. Even Roger Harper must now be wondering what he and his panel were really thinking when they included Oshane Thomas in the 15.

In a contest where the margins were always likely to be very fine, who would NOT want a bowler of OT’s lack of control and lack of class on the opposing side?

I see his inclusion as nothing but some kind of gift to Australia, England and South Africa. Or perhaps a misguided investment in some future World Cup.

So that, in fact, there were really just two players who could possibly supplant the well-past-his-best Gayle. And after his painful-to-watch 16 singles off 35 balls against South Africa, Lendl Simmons had clearly identified himself as a liability.

Photo: West Indies batsman Lendl Simmons is beaten by a delivery during the fourth T20 against South Africa on 1 July 2021.
(via CWI Media)

On current form, says my friend, he cannot buy a run. In a sale! It’s very hard to disagree.

Where, except inside the heads of Roger Harper’s selection panel, was there something to recommend Andre Fletcher? The 15-match international season? The CPL? The IPL? There really never was and still is no case to be made for him.

And after that spilled catch against Bangladesh which could so easily have cost us the game—and the title we were defending!—there is a strong case to be made against him.

Readers who closely followed the pre-selection part of this T2021 World Cup series may remember my disqualifying him from selection on the basis of the simple catch he dropped at point off Aaron Finch. And then, in the CPL, he dropped two more sitters. With the gloves on.

So, which of the current contenders for a place has a compelling case? Like it or not, the answer is that Gayle earned his place on merit!

Photo: Iconic West Indies batsman Chris Gayle is bowled by Bangladesh spinner Mahedi Hasan for runs during T20 World Cup action at the Dubai International Stadium on 29 October 2021.
(Copyright The Star)

And did precisely what reasonable people expected of him, which is to fail again, even worse this time around.

So come to think of it, maybe Harper and company could do a lot worse than immediately add the 521/2-year-old Lara to the reserves. Then, demand at short notice that all players take a knee before every game whether or not they believe in the BLM cause.

That might give us the space we need.

Australia are the Prince’s favourite whipping boys. And we don’t need 213, 153 and 100 in quick succession. If we continue to get the kind of single-digit scores we’ve been getting at the other end, we’ll be more than happy to get a 153 total.

And with no Marlon Samuels around to run the Prince tail out, the sky could be the limit.

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