Chris Gayle will be missing in action in South Africa due to injury © Getty Images
Chris Gayle will be missing in action in South Africa due to injury © Getty Images

As West Indies begin their tour with a three-match Test series against South Africa at Centurion from December 17, they will be without their star batsman Chris Gayle for the entire series, who misses out due to injury. Pramod Ananth analyses the impact of Gayle’s absence from the squad and the likely candidates to replace him at the top.

Chris Gayle has been the one of the stars of West Indies’ batting since his debut in 2000. He has won over fans all around the world with his explosive batting. He takes the attack to the opposition from the outset with his stroke play and does not allow the opposition to settle down. An average of over 42 and a strike rate of more than 60 in 103 Tests speak volumes about his batting abilities.

Gayle became the fourth player in history after Don Bradman, Brian Lara and Virender Sehwag to score two triple centuries, when he scored 333 in a Test against Sri Lanka at Galle in 2010. His other triple ton came against South Africa at Antigua in 2005. Out of the 15 centuries he has made, West Indies has lost only twice. He also scored 116 and 107 in back-to-back matches against South Africa at Centurion and Cape Town respectively when West Indies toured South Africa in 2004. His credentials at the top of the order therefore cannot be questioned.  The Jamaican’s attacking form of batting helps relieve pressure on his opening partner at the other end and sets it up for the middle order to take control.  Experienced players like Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Marlon Samuels try to calm things down after Gayle’s onslaught early on. He’s also probably one of the few players in the squad who has toured South Africa on multiple occasions and is aware of the conditions there.

West Indies will surely miss a player of the stature of Gayle at the top, but this can be a blessing in disguise for another player to make a mark in his absence. Also, the 35-year-old has had niggles here and there that =kept him out of the team on a regular basis of late. In addition, Gayle has not scored a century since he made 101 against Zimbabwe in March 2013. This is perhaps the right time to look for alternatives at the top.

Kraigg Brathwaite has already established himself as an opener, but this tour will be his toughest till date. Brathwaite has a double century to his name when he made 212 against Bangladesh in September this year. With an average of 38 in 14 Tests, Brathwaite has made a promising start to his career and will hope that he can kick on from here. Devon Smith is another player that could be asked to open. Smith played his last Test in 2011 versus Pakistan and his only 100 came against England in 2004. He was called up as a late replacement for Gayle and is the most likely to open the innings with Brathwaite.

The 27-year-old Leon Johnson from Georgetown is another bright prospect. He has just played in one Test and scored 66 in his first innings against Bangladesh.. Assad Fudadin could also be in contention for the opening spot. Although he didn’t impress in the game against South Africa Invitational XI, he has been in decent form in a few First-Class matches.

The West Indies would still rely on the experience of Chanderpaul and Samuels to bail them out of any situation against a formidable South African side. The West Indies will also hope that Gayle is fit for the T20Is and the One-Day International (ODI) series thereafter.

(Pramod Ananth is a reporter at CricketCountry. He has represented Karnataka table tennis under-15 and is a hardcore supporter of Liverpool FC. He can be followed at @pramz)