Chris Gayle has finally returned to international cricket and history tells us that he would be all in readiness to strike gold. On the other hand, Sunil Narine would be watched closely after an indifferent Test debut. Nishad Pai Vaidya looks at Gayle’s history in adversity and Narine’s prospects in the One-Day International (ODI) series against England which gets under way on Saturday.
The maroon jersey is set to be a part of Chris Gayle’s kit-bag after a long break. Having been in exile from the West Indian side for over a year, Gayle wielded his willow in numerous T20 leagues around the world and sent a strong message to his detractors. An encore of those thunderous displays in the three-match One-Day International (ODI) series against England would do wonders to his team’s cause and his international career.
In the course of the last one year, one could see that the snub from the West Indies setup had ignited a fire in Gayle and he unleashed his fury on hapless bowlers from around the world. History is proof of the fact that whenever Gayle has been pushed to a corner and has to prove a point, he does it in some brutal style. All the doubts surrounding his ability are bludgeoned with some marvellous displays of batting.
In January 2011, Gayle was astonishingly snubbed at the Indian Premier League (IPL) auctions. That an impact player of such talent didn’t garner interest on the big day was surprising. A day after the disappointment at the auction, Gayle turned up for Western Australia in the KFC T20 Big Bash and scored 61 off just 31 balls, lacing the park with eight fours and four sixes. It was a signal to the IPL franchises that they had committed a cardinal sin and it was his bat that did the talking. He didn’t stop there as he went on to score 92 off just 40 balls against Queensland two weeks later.
When the West Indies team captaincy was taken away from him, he responded with a magnificent 333 against Sri Lanka at Galle in the first Test of their tour to the Emerald Isle in late 2010. The dispute with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) intensified after the 2011 World Cup and he was immediately left out of the squad. As a result, he could fly to India and turn up for a Royal Challengers Bangalore and change the course of their campaign. He ended up as the highest run-scorer in the tournament and some of his knocks defied logic. That campaign kick-started his T20 tour around the globe with West Indies missing his services.
Coming into the side after a long lay-off, one can sense that Gayle is more sensible and in control of his game. Some of his knocks during the recently concluded IPL suggested that he had studied his batting and was ready to tweak his approach and spend more time at the crease. Initially, he may start cautiously, but once he has faced enough deliveries, he is ready to tee off. A player of his quality can afford to see off the initial phase as he has the power to alter the course of a game in the span of a few overs. With a more sensible Gayle in their line-up, West Indies are clearly stronger at the top and it would be a huge boost to the youngsters who would look to bat around him.
In a recent statement, Gayle said that the misunderstandings between him and the board have been cleared. However, a fire would be burning inside Gayle and although the situation is very different from the earlier events, he would like to make an instant impact. Scoring in numerous T20 leagues is one thing, but it is the international game that counts. With a good performance, Gayle can affirm his commitment to the West Indies cricket. England better beware as an inspired Gayle-storm is coming their way.
After Gayle, Narine would be the player who would be watched very closely during the series. With all the hype and the disappointment of his Test debut, there is considerable interest in how he would bowl in the coming games.
Since the end of the IPL, a lot has been said and written about Sunil Narine’s Test prospects. Due to his mystery, comparisons with Ajantha Mendis were inevitable. Mendis’s mystery has been cracked and some fear Narine would go down the same road. In contrast to Mendis, Narine hasn’t had a very good Test debut. However, one mustn’t forget that he it was a rain marred affair and that it wasn’t enough to judge his quality.
The pitches in England may not suit Narine’s style of bowling and he may struggle a touch. Nevertheless, the ODIs would be his forte and he may be able to trick the batsmen while they try to push the tempo. Having had a phenomenal run the IPL, the law of averages may have caught up with him during the Edgbaston Test. Keeping that in perspective, one mustn’t forget that Narine was one of the bowlers at the receiving end of Virender Sehwag’s power during his record-breaking double hundred.
England batsmen had a torrid time in the Middle East while facing Saeed Ajmal. The doosras and other variations troubled them tremendously, but they were able to exorcise those ghosts during a successful ODI series. They would be looking forward to their battle against Narine, especially after the pasting they gave him in the Test. At the same time, there would a certain amount of ambivalence. Given that Narine’s mystery hasn’t been completely deciphered, there may be a few doubts in the minds of the English batsmen.
Kevin Pietersen – the man who thrashed Narine in the Test series - is absent from the ODIs. The onus is on the others to tackle the West Indian tweaker.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)