West Indies cricket fans who were still cresting the waves of jubilation after their team’s out-of-the-blue sweep of Bangladesh in the recent two-match Test series, the first team to complete the feat since 2012, despite visits by strong Australian, English, New Zealand, South African, Sri Lankan and Pakistani sides, were tipped off their joyous ride last Friday with the announcement of the squad for the three-match T20 series against the Sri Lankan tourists which begins today in Antigua.
The selectors’ recall of Chris Gayle and Fidel Edwards for the T20 series has left many West Indian fans bewildered and speechless to say the least. The selection of the 41-year-old Gayle and the 39-year-old Edwards, who last represented the West Indies in 2019 and 2012, respectively, comes in the wake of the triumph on the Indian sub-continent, which was being seen as a new beginning and a shift towards the next generation of players.
The announcement of Gayle’s return is not a big surprise to keen followers of the game who would have noted the announcement by the Quetta Gladiators of the Pakistan Super League (PSL), which is currently in progress, prior to the commencement of the tournament, that Faf du Plessis was going to be a partial replacement for Gayle, although no reason had been given. Any lingering doubt was confirmed by Gayle himself, who said in a video interview with PSL last Wednesday that he was returning to the Caribbean, “for international duty.”
In a media release, Chairman of the Selectors Roger Harper stated that as the West Indies were building towards defending their T20 World Cup title in October/November in India, “…the opportunity is being taken to determine our best team and squad as we go forward. Chris Gayle has performed very well in recent tournaments and the selection panel thinks that he can still add great value to our team. Fidel Edwards has been selected to give the bowling the potent firepower needed.”
In a Zoom press conference call with the media, CWI Director of Cricket Jimmy Adams defended the different fitness standards applied to members of the T20 and ODI squads. In the light of the omission of Shimron Hetmyer from either squad, members of the media enquired about Gayle’s and Rakheem Cornwall’s abilities to meet the required standards. “As is best practice around the world, there are going to be times when players for different reasons might be unable or incapable of achieving minimum standards either across the whole battery of tests or certain aspects of it,” Adams stated. “There are exemptions that are given to these players and the four main areas that are considered for these exemptions would be the player’s age, individual physiological limitations, their injury history, and also their training history. This is standard across many high-performance environments and we are no different,” the CWI Director added.
The Selection Chairman and the CWI Director of Cricket can go to great lengths to justify the inclusion of Gayle in the T20 squad, but any way you twist it or turn it, this recall is a retrograde step in any direction.
What message are they sending to the new generation who performed so admirably in Bangladesh? In the words of the Chief Selector, “The Test series win in Bangladesh was a real joy to watch. The results were brilliant, but it was the passion, the application and the determination, as well as the team spirit that were exactly what we wanted to see.” Passion, application, determination, and team spirit – powerful words indeed. But it seems the selectors do not wish to see these qualities in the T20 series.
Gayle is the last lingering vestige of an era West Indies cricket fans would rather forget. This was an era dominated by the ‘Me-Generation’ who displayed no passion and accepted the accumulating pile of losses as just another day at the office. Their interests and concerns appeared to be more about individual achievements and milestones and off-the-field pursuits. Passion and team spirit were non-existent. Yet here we are reaching to return one of these ghosts past to the dressing room.
Here is a cricketer who took to YouTube last year and in the most unsavoury manner set about insulting a former West Indian captain. Gayle’s disgusting behaviour was somewhat endorsed by the Chairman of the CPL Disciplinary Committee, former Jamaican Prime Minister P J Patterson, who accepted a rather flimsy excuse in which Gayle never apologized to Ramnaresh Sarwan the target of his rant. Despite an open plea by this column, (Dangerous precedent set, SN May 20, 2020) to CWI President Ricky Skerritt to utilize the auspices of his office and order Gayle to remove the videos, as of Monday, March 1, they were still on YouTube, a lingering embarrassment to West Indies cricket. Yet Gayle has been recalled and given the honour of wearing the maroon.
Gayle has boasted that he doesn’t need to practice or attend net sessions, a trait he claims is understood wherever he plays in T20 leagues around the world. Is this the type of player the selectors want setting an example to the next generation? And now that he has been selected, he is already assuming that he will be in the squad to India later this year, just as he reiterated to the media on every occasion in the months prior to the 2019 World Cup.
Speaking at a press conference in Antigua on Monday, he said, “I want to accomplish, starting off by winning the [Sri Lanka] series, but the bigger picture is actually to get three T20 titles under my belt. That’s actually the goal I’m setting in my head by winning the T20 World Cup. We have quite a few series coming up and we have a lot of cricket leading up to that. We’ll try and take as much as possible out of these series coming up.” So much for team spirit.
Just when we thought we had turned the corner, it appears the selectors have shot themselves in the foot. How far will this set West Indies cricket back? How much damage will the selection of these over-the-hill players have on morale and team spirit, qualities which were recently re-ignited in Bangladesh? West Indies fans, who are waiting to see how this pending fiasco ends, should be advised not to hold their breaths.
Always tell someone how you feel because opportunities are lost in the blink of an eye but regret can last a lifetime. cricketwindies.com/forum/