Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
LAUDERHILL, Florida, USA:
No longer captain, and just back from international cricket wilderness, Jamaica's explosive opening batsman Chris Gayle is not about to tone down his role as a senior team leader following his return to the West Indies.
Gayle, who rejoined the regional squad at the tail end of the recently concluded tour of England, after controversially being sidelined by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) for more than a year over comments he made criticising the WICB and current coach Ottis Gibson, is willing to shoulder a full share of the burden to help guide a team marked by inconsistent performances and habitual losing.
"Being back now, I mean, whatever contribution I can actually share out there in the middle, and off the field, I'm definitely looking forward to that," the 32-year-old said on the eve of two Twenty20 internationals against New Zealand here on June 30 and July 1.
Good cricket in patches
In his absence, the West Indies have lost several series, including the most recent against Australia in the Caribbean and then England. According to Gayle, widely acknowledged as the West Indies' best and most feared player, he is familiar with the current problem, but confident he can help iron it out.
"(The West Indies) have won some games, but not series," said Gayle, who recently completed a stellar season in the Indian Premier League's (IPL) T20 competition.
"We've played good cricket in patches. We've played quite a few series which we haven't won. We played good cricket in the Australia series, with the Test matches and, basically, in the ODIs (one-day internationals). But when you look at it, we still haven't won the series.
"But I've been in situations like this before, where we're searching for results," he added, "and it's something that we all, as individuals, have to look into ourselves and try make a necessary, another step, another notch up, forward, and get the result.
"But you know we don't want to play inconsistent cricket. That's been our downfall, you know, playing a good game here, and then we lost the next game. That's something we need to get out of, and if we can get out of that, then we should actually win more series."
West Indies captain Darren Sammy underlined Gayle's importance, especially after the disappointing performances by most of the team's front-line batsmen.
"Chris' inclusion in any team is always a big asset," Sammy said here. "So he came back, and what he's doing at the top of the order is good for us."
Gayle said he will make needed changes to his batting as the New Zealand series progresses from the shortest version of international cricket - T20s - to the longest - Test matches - in the Caribbean. He is pleased with his current form.
"I've been hitting the ball well, starting off in England," said Gayle. "I had a wonderful IPL and then you have to make the necessary adjustments back again. But that's the life of a professional cricketer. You have to adapt to the situation as quickly as possible.
"So I'm enjoying it, and with these situations as a batter, you want to get a good start and that will actually give you more confidence leading up to the rest of the series. If it doesn't happen, then things will be a bit more difficult and you have to even dig a bit deeper to try and get that kick-start ... . Confidence is always good, so you've got to be prepared mentally and physically ready for them."
Gayle is suffering from a shin injury, which kept him out of the first 50-over game against England last month, and, according to him, "can lead to a stress fracture". That would keep him out of the game. But Gayle believes the reward is worth the risk.
"I still volunteered to play on it, you know, try and get some cricket in for West Indies and see if we can get some results," he explained.
Gayle said he has been warmly welcomed back to the West Indies squad. He scored a half-century in the second ODI against England. Now he is looking forward to New Zealand, especially the games at Sabina Park - July 5 and 7, plus the second Test, August 2-6 - as Jamaica celebrate 50 years of Independence.
"Yeah, definitely," said Gayle. "When you look back, we hadn't had any games there (in Jamaica) for the Australia series, so I'm sure the fans in Jamaica are looking forward to these two ODI games and then the last Test match in Jamaica.
"I'm sure they (fans) are gonna turn out ... . It's Jamaica's 50th Independence and, you know, guys try to make some sort of contribution and hopefully make the country proud."