Stephen Brenkley: Gayle brings a sunshine mood to West Indies' new dawn
Friday 13 February 2009
There is a tangible optimism around. Nobody is saying much, just in case, but it is there in their faces and in their moods. The thoughts are easy to read. An entire region is wishing that it really is so, that it is not a false dawn, that West Indies cricket is back.
The victory against England by an innings and 23 runs last week has transformed expectations in a trice. From being no-hopers, a status applying to supporters as much as the team, the whole place is suddenly alive with self-belief again.
It is about time and perhaps not the moment to dwell on the probable truth that one modest team beat another modest team in the first Test at Kingston. The kernel of that victory, it is important to note, was not in the spectacular climax but in the fact that the West Indies played tough, attritional cricket for the three days before it. They wore England down. That, more than one inspired spell of great fast bowling by Jerome Taylor, was the most heartening aspect.
Chris Gayle, their eternally relaxed captain, played to the gallery again yesterday. It might be dangerous to slide on the outfield, he said, but he was not worried because he did not slide. Underneath beats the heart of a serious captain, and one who may change the face of West Indies cricket.
It is bizarre to compare Gayle to previous captains of the West Indies, not least their first official black captain, Frank Worrell. Worrell was a man of quiet dignity, a natural leader who exuded authority. Gayle is a cool dude, a man of the times who embraces modern culture, who, as they say, gets down with the kids. But he may also be a man for this time.
West Indies have indubitably improved under Gayle and the Australian coach, John Dyson. They won an away Test in South Africa last winter, their first Test victory on foreign soil, save in Bangladesh or Zimbabwe, for eight years. They pushed Australia hard and drew comfortably in New Zealand last month.
This does not make them world champions or close to being so. But to see them playing authentic Test cricket again, without running at the first sign of things getting tricky is a significant step. Gayle said there is a new maturity in the side.
"It's not for me to go round and keep reminding the players what their responsibilities are," he said. "Everyone knows what they doing and are capable of getting the job done." Gayle is not one for handing out reprimands and warnings.
West Indies will make at least one change, with Ryan Hinds or Lendl Simmons coming in for Xavier Marshall. But any more would seem ridiculous, especially as scattergun selection has been part of the problem in recent years.
Gayle has become an influential voice who knows the rhythms of the team. He was not underplaying England's threat but he was not overplaying it.
The game in the Caribbean remains in a parlous state and there is no certainty that there will be a large home contingent at the second Test today because the venue is so remote and supporters are still not quite sure what to expect.
But as Gayle said: "This Test series is huge. This would mean a lot to us to win the series after playing well against New Zealand, to come back here against stronger opponents. To beat England would be superb." The nations of the Caribbean await.
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