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T20 World Cup 2021

Curtly Ambrose has a point: Chris Gayle’s West Indies spot should be in danger

by Divy Tripathi 6 minute read

In light of the comments made by Curtly Ambrose, Divy Tripathi wonders if Chris Gayle’s place in the West Indies starting XI for the T20 World Cup is secure.

A few days back, Curtly Ambrose made it clear that for him, Chris Gayle wasn’t an automatic selection for the West Indies team in the T20 World Cup. He said that Chris Gayle hadn’t done anything worthwhile in the few home series that the West Indies had recently played, and that his form over the last 18 months or so wasn’t special.

And there’s some truth in that. This year Gayle has scored 227 runs at an average of 17.5 with a strike-rate of 117.6 in T20I cricket. But, focussing only on his T20I numbers doesn’t tell the full story. T20 as a format is rooted in its many leagues around the world. If international numbers were the sole criterion for selecting a side, the likes of Roston Chase and Ravi Rampaul would never have made it to this team.

However, Gayle has mixed returns in his recent T20 appearances as well. While, his two games in PSL earlier this year yielded some crucial runs for Quetta Gladiators, he never got going in the IPL 2021, finishing the campaign with 193 runs at 21.44 with an un-Gayle strike-rate of 125.32.

It was in between the two legs of the IPL where Gayle looked woefully out of touch. In 13 T20I outings, he passed 30 just twice.

In CPL 2021, Chris Gayle scored 165 runs in nine games at a strike-rate of 128.9. Here again we saw fleeting appearances of the old Chris Gayle, such as his semi-final knock of 42 off 27 against Guyana Amazon Warriors but performances like that generally proved to be the exception to the norm.

When Gayle returned to the West Indies side earlier this year, his recent returns in franchise cricket were referenced. Phil Simmons stated before the Sri Lanka series: “He shows that both with the bat and on the field, he looks fitter and feels better and he is still hitting the ball as we want to see him do it.”

It seems little has changed – despite Gayle’s declining form – from their perspective. The lead selector, Roger Harper recently defended Gayle’s selection, saying: “Of course, present form is important. Of course, performance is key. I think we’ll look at the pedigree of the player, what the player brings to the team. In Gayle’s case, all that was taken into consideration, in terms of what he can offer the team, and whether being part of that squad would make it stronger. I think the selection panel was happy to answer yes to those questions, thus, he’s been included in the squad.”

Maybe, this is down to the destructive aura that surrounds Gayle, that even at 42, there is still a sense that he is capable of taking down any side on his day.

He’s bounced back before, such as on his return to international cricket against England in February, 2019, after not featuring for the West Indies in the preceding six months. Yet, he delivered when it mattered and ended up as the leading run-scorer in the ODI series, with 424 runs at an average of 106 and a strike-rate of 134.17 – Gayle was back with a bang.

But, even that comeback was nearly three years ago now. At 42, there is less certainty as to whether Chris Gayle will repeat these feats this World Cup. And, this might come back to bite the West Indies on a tough day.

His numbers against spin bowlers haven’t been particularly impressive this year – he averages 20.38 against spinners, with a strike-rate of 121.55. This might become an issue in the tournament, given how wickets are expected to help the spinners. In the warm-up game against Pakistan, he scored a 30-ball 20 at number three. Against spinners, he scored only eight runs off 18 deliveries.

But, it was only last year that Gayle batted at a strike-rate of 162.09 against spin. The year before that it was 138.46. Even Curtly Ambrose in his criticism of Gayle, mentioned the fact that he can be destructive on the day he gets going.

All of the above leaves West Indies in an uncomfortable position. If they leave out Gayle then they are letting go of a potentially destructive option, a man who can take the game away in a matter of moments who has produced big performances on the big occasion time and time again. If they pick him, they may also have to endure situations where he might not get going for the first few overs of his stay and get out cheaply.

Perhaps, the best they can make out of this situation is to start Chris Gayle in their playing XI, in the initial stages of the tournament. There’s no doubt that Gayle should be in the top-order of the first-choice West Indies XI, at least, on the paper.

Even if he has a poor game, it can’t hurt the West Indies given that the tournament is in group format, leaving the possibility to claw back into contention after an early defeat. No changes should be made unless he fails to fire in those early games. But Gayle, given his stature, talent, and experience, should at least be allowed those first few games to express himself freely at the wicket and see what is still possible for the 42-year-old.

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