As the West Indies began their tour yesterday it was overshadowed by a familiar but absent figure – Chris Gayle, their former captain who has been in dispute with the West Indies Cricket Board for the past year and in truth for many seasons before that, declared his availability for the limited-overs series in England.
It seems likely he will join the team as soon as his engagement with Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League ends, which should coincide with the start of the tourists' one-day campaign.
In announcing his withdrawal from a contract to play for Somerset, Gayle was risking further dispute but made it clear he wanted to play international cricket again. He has not appeared for the West Indies since the World Cup in March last year and his most recent Test was in late 2010.
Gayle, who spoke to the selectors from India, said: "I understand that by making this decision, it may place me in a position of considerable risk, since I am foregoing a signed contract without any guarantees whatsoever, with only the hope that I will be selected to play for the West Indies again. So that there is no doubt, I confirmed to the selectors that I was available for West Indies duty in all forms of cricket."
His inclusion for the one-day matches will obviously strengthen the tourists, as it would in the Test series, which does not mean he will be welcomed back with unequivocal relief. Talented and popular he may be, but Gayle has perpetually courted controversy which can disrupt dressing rooms.
Darren Sammy, the tourists' captain, and Ottis Gibson, their coach, opened the door to him somewhat half-heartedly in their arrival press conference at Hove. Sammy said: "The Chris Gayle issue has been going on for a while but we as a team have moved on and as you could see in the last series we played [against Australia] we came out with a new attitude: where we are not going to let anybody keep us down. When Chris joins the set-up, he will be coming to a very hardworking environment which he has to fit in."
Gibson said he would welcome any player who would improve the side. "It will be very easy. He's the best one-day batsman in the world. So I don't think it will be a problem at all."
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