The one-day series between England and West Indies will be notable for the absence of one superstar batsman and the return of another. While Kevin Pietersen heads off into the limited-overs sunset, Chris Gayle is back in town to blaze away once more. For the dispassionate observer it is a fair exchange.
Gayle, like Pietersen, puts bottoms on seats, as he did at Lord's yesterday when he returned to the West Indies side for the first time in 15 months and as he will do at Southampton on Saturday should the first of three one-day internationals be spared the predicted deluge. His stay was brief but spectacular – 34 runs, two sixes, four fours, holed out in the deep – and he is boyishly pleased at his return.
"It's good to be back in the number 45 representing West Indies once more," he said after his innings. "Today was a good start. I started a bit nervous but eventually things came along well and then unfortunately I got out."
Hang on. Nervous, the coolest man in world cricket (apart possibly from his Jamaican compatriot, Marlon Samuels)? "I'm human, so I felt a bit nervous," he said. "But now I'm really looking forward to the first ODI game. I'll be in a better state of mind."
Others scored the bulk of the runs yesterday in the canter against Middlesex. Darren Bravo scored 112 from 112 balls and Dwayne Smith 96 from 81 balls, both with clean, ferocious hitting which will test England to the limit in the next fortnight. After Smith was out, 106 runs came from the last 10 overs, 42 off the last two as Bravo and his elder brother Dwayne plundered the bowling and the short boundary. Still, it was Gayle whose return commanded the attention.
He lamented the departure of Pietersen, who has withdrawn from all limited-overs cricket after the England and Wales Cricket Board refused his offer to play Twenty20 but not 50-over cricket. Pietersen refused to compromise, whereas it is probably the lure of the World Twenty20 in September which persuaded Gayle to bury the hatchet with the West Indies Cricket Board after a disagreement which had rumbled since the World Cup last year.
Echoing the thoughts of many not connected with the England management, Gayle said: "It will be a big blow for England if they don't pick him. He is the best batsman in the team and I think the coach will miss him, the captain will miss him the players will definitely miss him. And the fans are going to miss him."
In Gayle's absence from the team, his successor as captain, Darren Sammy, has moulded a close unit which seems be making progress. It must be at least possible that Gayle's return will have a disruptive effect, partly because he has been away for so long, partly because he has become such an outstanding bat for hire in the world game.
Although it may not have looked like it at times, Gayle has missed playing international cricket. "Yes, definitely," he said. "I want to get a few more centuries for West Indies. I'm still a part of it whichever way you look at it. Now I'm back I want to contribute in every way I can." His 20th one-day hundred in the series against England is a distinct possibility.