Set for T20
There is rain in the region, and like a heavy cloud that refuses to blow over, Chris Gayle’s continued absence from international cricket continues to dog the West Indies team.
However, Darren Sammy and his West Indies side see only opportunity looming when they take on the depleted Suresh Raina-led Indian team in the lone Digicel Pearls Twenty20 match at the Queen’s Park Oval from 10 o’clock this morning.
At yesterday’s media launch of the limited-overs series, both Sammy and coach Ottis Gibson had to fend off questions about the non-consideration of Gayle, the Player Of The Series in the just concluded fourth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Gayle, Sammy’s predecessor as captain, will not be picked for the regional side pending a meeting with the West Indies Cricket Board’s CEO, Ernest Hilaire, Gibson and the regional selectors [Clyde Butts, Robert Haynes and Courtney Browne] over controversial public statements by the player prior to his going off to the IPL.
Yesterday, however, Gibson left the matter well alone.
“There’s a lot been said . . . I try to leave those sort of matters to the board and the CEO . . . and I try to focus on cricket,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing ever since the whole Gayle thing started.”
Sammy’s counterpart Raina admitted to being “relieved” at not having to deal with the threat of Gayle in this T20 and the first two matches of the One-Day International series.
It will be a challenge enough for Raina, leading the Indian side in the absence of regular captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and without other World Cup winners like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir for support.
This is India’s first assignment since their triumph against Sri Lanka in the final in Mumbai in April, and first under new coach Duncan Fletcher. However, Raina is looking forward to the responsibility.
“The players . . . really want to do well in this series and like Duncan said, it’s very important to give 100 per cent . . .
“When you know you are the world champion, you have to . . . believe in your strength and approach each and every game in a good way.”
There may not be the usual headline names, but the presence of vice-captain Harbhajan Singh, Virat Kholi, Munaf Patel and Ishant Sharma means there is still sufficient quality in the ranks for India to bowl off the weekend as favourites.
But the Windies will feel they can finish the home series with a 100 per cent T20 record. Having beaten Pakistan in this format last month, Sammy is expecting similar commitment from his side today; Gayle or not.
“We won the Twenty20 against Pakistan, we won a Test match. We managed to draw a series at home against a higher-ranked opposition.
“So I would say the guys who were chosen to represent West Indies did their best and we are looking to do that in this series: play together as a team and put the performances out there that the public could see that we really trying [and] looking to improve,” he said.
And the Windies captain is not too concerned about the make-up of the opposition.
“No matter what, we [are] still playing India, the No. 1 team . . . We have to control what we can, which is go out there and play the brand of cricket which will put pressure on India.
“If the best players are not here, that’s for them to worry about. We [are] going to focus on us and what we want to do in this series.”
The home side, who will be without ineligible all-rounders Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard for this match, do not have the weight of expectation burdening them as will the visitors. They will, however, face another examination of their ability against good spin bowling.
Coach Gibson hopes his men will begin to trust in themselves more, starting today.
“It’s not a situation where you try to reinvent yourself as a player, you just have to have that belief in yourself and go out and do the things that you’ve done before.
“The one thing you have to have at international level is belief in yourself.”
A capacity crowd at the Oval will be ever-willing to feed off any such display of confidence once the weather permits.