“In life, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
Chris Gayle’s own words following a stunning 135 scored against England in Barbados, in February of this year.
Gayle was referencing his decision, made just days earlier, to call time on his 20-year international career at the conclusion of the Cricket World Cup in England this summer. The ‘Universe Boss’ intends to go out with a big bang.
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Chris Gayle’s ODI Career
- Matches: 289
- Runs: 10,151
- Average: 38.16
- Strike-Rate: 87.14
- Fifties: 51
- Hundreds: 25
- Highest Score: 215
- No of Sixes: 314
The West Indies, though, are far from favourites to get their hands of the trophy: ranked eighth in the world and having had to earn their place at the tournament proper through the 2018 Cricket World Cup Qualifier.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018. Harare. Gayle falls first ball to Safyaan Sharif as the West Indies are embarrassingly bundled out for 198 by Scotland. Lose, and the two-time tournament winners will not feature in a World Cup for the first time in their history, with the Scots instead pinching their spot.
At 125-5, 35.2 overs into the run chase, Scotland are steadily ticking off the runs towards that most unexpected of outcomes. But then, rain arrives to save the West Indies – a five-run Duckworth-Lewis win confirming their qualification.
Adding to the Scottish heartbreak; Richie Berrington – the fifth wicket to fall – is given out lbw to an Ashley Nurse delivery that strikes him outside the line of leg stump. With the benefit of DRS, Berrington survives and, at four wickets down for the same score at the 35.2-over mark, Scotland are three-run winners.
Perhaps that would have prompted an early retirement for Gayle? His explosive career ending with less a big bang, more a lazy waft outside off stump and thin edge behind.
Instead, this team, and Gayle, are making the most of their second life.
Two 2-1 series defeats to Bangladesh – home and away – don’t exactly hint at that, but a Gayle-less West Indies held their own in a five-match series in India late last year, while the Universe Boss returned to blast England’s attack to all parts in a 2-2 tied series against the world’s No 1 ranked side.
India unearthed talents like Shimron Hetmyer and Shai Hope – who will be familiar already to England fans after scoring a century in both innings of a Test win at Headingley two years ago – as the West Indies split the opening three games, which included a thrilling tie in Visakhapatnam.
Hope hit 123 not out and Hetmyer 94 in that shared second ODI, while the latter’s 106 off 78 balls in the first game of the series went a long way to securing him a $580,000 IPL deal with the Royal Challengers Bangalore.
In the third game, Hope starred again with a classy 95 in a winning cause, though he and the tourists fell away badly in the final two games, registering back-to-back ducks as they were bowled out for 153 and 104 in heavy defeats.
They just needed a few more experienced heads to help them through. And we got a truer glimpse of what this West Indies side are capable of when the 39-year-old Gayle returned to take on – and take apart – England.
The 135 in Barbados wasn’t even the peak of his powers. In the fourth ODI in Grenada, Gayle cleared the rope a staggering 14 times, and hit 11 boundaries, as his 167 off just 92 balls very nearly ensured the second-highest successful run-chase in ODI cricket – the hosts ultimately falling 29 runs short of England’s 418.
Since his golden duck against Scotland, Gayle averages 80.85 in ODI cricket. It’s form that has even had the man himself doubting his decision to call time on his career.
“We’ll just have to wait and see. On another day maybe I’d say something different,” Gayle told Sky Sports after the England series. “For now we’ll wait and see what happens.
“The captain [Jason Holder] said in the last game that he can’t understand how I can announce my retirement when I am striking the ball so well. The youngsters have something to feed off.”
Gayle’s potential to “feed” the team’s younger talent is no doubt what has persuaded Holder to name him as his World Cup vice-captain. All too often with the West Indies, however, feast is never too far from famine – and Gayle is no greater example of that.
In the last World Cup, Gayle struck a majestic double hundred to beat Zimbabwe, but managed a combined 50 in defeats to Ireland, South Africa and India.
Sixty-one came as the West Indies made their quarter-final exit with a heavy defeat to co-hosts New Zealand, the very definition of ‘too little, too late’.
The team’s greatest successes of the 21st century have been confined to the game’s shortest format, with their penchant for the spectacular, their style and undoubted flair translating perfectly to the T20 game and resulting in two ICC tournament wins in 2012 and 2016.
And, from the most recent of triumphs, Andre Russell – arguably the most in-demand allrounder in the white-ball game – returns to the ODI fold, named in the World Cup squad, as does final hero and Ben Stokes destroyer, Carlos “remember the name” Brathwaite.
But, there are still plenty of big names absent, and that’s despite the relationship between players and the board being much improved since the election of Ricky Skerritt as president in March.
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Two-time T20 winning captain Darren Sammy was, unsurprisingly, not named. He has never been selected since saying he felt “disrespected by the board” following that 2016 final win. But IPL stars Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine were both said to be in contention before ultimately being overlooked – a long-standing finger injury doing for the latter.
Marlon Samuels is somewhat of a surprise omission, while ‘Champion’ T20 death bowler Dwayne Bravo officially retired from the international game in October last year.
Instead, bolstering the bowling ranks are Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel – both devastating on their day – and the saluting Sheldon Cottrell. Youngster Oshane Thomas is promising, but raw.
Evin Lewis is a destructive opening bat, while Hope – averaging 89.77, with four hundreds since India – Darren Bravo, Hetmyer, Russell, Brathwaite and the captain Holder add to a deep-looking lineup, but much of the batting burden still lies with Gayle.
The personnel may be different, but what the two T20 tournament wins taught the world about the West Indies is write them off at your peril.
The mercurial talents can beat anyone on their day, just as England found out to their cost in the Caribbean. Should they be able to negotiate the 10-team round-robin group stage this summer and pinch a top four spot, they will be nasty knockout opponents.
Their tournament opens against the similarly changeable talents of Pakistan at Trent Bridge on May 31 – a toss of the coin – before a tricky stretch against South Africa, Australia and hosts England follows. But, if the islanders can stay in contention by the time their final two group games roll around – Sri Lanka and Afghanistan (9th and 10th ranked in the world) – a semi-final spot could be theirs.