The West Indies captain who doesn't want to lead

Belligerent as a batsman, Chris Gayle is no less forthright in his views on the game and those who run it back home, writes Tony Cozier

Thursday 14 May 2009 00:00

Chris Gayle would have no more considered moderating his provocative views on Test and Twenty20 cricket, and the West Indies captaincy, than he would toning down his belligerent batting.

Pressed for an opinion this week, he gave it openly, without concern for the possible repercussions. Presented with a swinging half-volley first ball, he opens his shoulders and thumps it, whether out of the ground or into the clutches of a waiting fielder. It is, he pleads, just the way he is. What you see with Chris, as he refers to himself, is what you get.

The West Indies Cricket Board president, Julian Hunte, said he was taken aback by Gayle's views prior to today's second Test that Twenty20 now meant more to him than Tests and that he would soon be quitting the captaincy. Ill-timed as they were, Hunte shouldn't have been.

Gayle had already put forward his resignation last August when he was summoned to a WICB meeting in St Lucia, supposedly to hear a case against him for openly and sharply criticising team selection. He clearly did not regard the position as a sacred duty. As it was, Hunte persuaded him to stay on. He is now wondering whether he did the right thing.

Gayle cast the dye for his future manner as soon as he controversially came to the captaincy, for the limited-overs series on the previous England tour in 2007.

He was chosen by the selectors to take over after Brian Lara's appointed successor, Ramnaresh Sarwan, dislocated his shoulder. But the nomination was rejected by the board in favour of vice-captain Daren Ganga, until a public outcry led to Gayle's reinstatement.

Gayle said he was "hurt and disappointed" by the rebuff and was bitingly critical of the board's failure to get the side's one-day specialists to England in time for warm-up matches, having earlier slated the management's stringent curfew times.

Ken Gordon, the Trinidadian media executive who was then WICB president, demanded a public apology for "his unfortunate and ill-advised statements", calling it "totally unacceptable conduct".

Gayle bluntly refused. "I always stand up for what I believe in and when I'm wrong, I'm wrong and when I'm right, I'm right," he said. "If there are going to be any consequences you have to stand up and deal with it as a man. I'm always ready for anything." Gordon soon resigned, Hunte took over and the matter rested.

Ironically, Gayle has proved to be more successful than most of the seven captains since Viv Richards retired in 1991. His winning percentage in 13 Tests (23 per cent) is better than Brian Lara, Jimmy Adams, Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. He presided over victories against South Africa in Port Elizabeth in his first match in charge and over Sri Lanka, and, most recently and famously, over England in the Caribbean to regain the Wisden Trophy after nine years. Australia were pressed hard for their 2-0 win in three Tests in the Caribbean last year.

For all his protestations about Test cricket and the captaincy, his own game has flourished since he came to the position. He averages 47.5 in 13 Tests as captain, 38.28 earlier.

The three-day débâcle at Lord's in the first Test last week, and the lead-up to it, was the first indication that Gayle was enraptured by the Twenty20 game and falling out with Test cricket. Given permission by the WICB to join the team three days before the match – as England's were by the England and Wales Cricket Board – he delayed it to play one last match for the Kolkata Knight Riders. The $1m he picked up for the victory over England in the Stanford $20m extravaganza last November and his $700,000 Indian Premier League contract were strong reasons for the switch.

He claims the cause is as much the intensity of the international calendar and his increasing number of injuries. It is a complaint shared by many and, as much as the uproar over his comments on Test cricket, it is that which needs to occupy cricket's administrators and everyone concerned about the future.

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