Gayle could be the key man again as two heavyweights clash in crucial Super Eights match
Chris Gayle's significance at the top of the West Indies batting order can never be overstated.
There was an awkward moment at the press conference that happened soon after West Indies’ match against Ireland. “All the people come to see Chris Gayle. Are you confident that the rest of your batsmen can contribute enough to a win?” asked a journalist to Darren Sammy, who has led West Indies through a tricky period in its cricket, a lot of which Gayle did not figure in because of his stand-off with the West Indies Cricket Board. The usually affable Sammy, whose default expression is a smile that shows most of his 32 teeth, popped a question back in response: “Have you gone and personally asked everyone in the stadium who they’ve come to watch?”
It was only a brief moment, triggered by the sort of question there’s no easy answer to when there are bright lights and television cameras in front of you, but it did give everyone a sense of just how much larger-than-life a figure Gayle is in his dressing-room. Although Sammy goes out of his way to emphasise that it is not about any one individual, and to be fair to him he has soldiered long and hard with a team that did not include Gayle, the role Gayle plays, especially in the shortest format, can barely be overstated.
This was very much the case when Gayle played for Royal Challengers Bangalore, where he stitched together an amazing string of performances, only to see his team slip in the odd game where he did not click. You can be sure that England’s quick bowlers will have spent at least as much time thinking about Gayle as they have the rest of the West Indian batting line-up. Stuart Broad, England’s captain, has often played the role of the enforcer in England’s attack, and this is a line of thinking that might well come into effect against Gayle.
While it’s dangerous to focus your attentions so sharply on one individual in a team game, teams would be lying if they said this was not the case with Gayle and the West Indies. Of course, the danger in doing this is that the bowlers might be so euphoric if they dismiss Gayle cheaply that they let some of the lesser lights shine bright.
West Indies will be more eager to see what the pitch looks like on match day, for the ground would already have been used by Sri Lanka and New Zealand earlier in the day. If the pitch at Pallekele continues to play as it has, England will be the happier team, for it would mean the ball will skid on and aid its tall fast bowlers. West Indies want purchase for its spinners, especially Sunil Narine, given how England played spin in its last game.
Thursday’s game could be a sledger’s delight, with one side pointing to the other’s most recent failing, while the other need only point out how much rides on one man to rile the rest up.
If the rain stays away, and so far Kandy has been dry, a packed house that will assemble early to watch Sri Lanka could be in for a cracker.