Cricket : Chris Gayle set for West Indies T20I return

Chris Gayle is expected to return to West Indies’ T20I squad for the first time in two years, when the side takes on the visiting Sri Lankans at the start of March. West Indies will announce a squad later this week but Gayle has interrupted a stint with the Quetta Gladiators in the PSL to return to the Caribbean, having been given indications that he will feature in the three-match T20I series against Sri Lanka.

As with the other members, Gayle will undergo a fitness assessment before the final squad is named. If he does play, it will be the first time he has represented West Indies in any format since August 2019, when he played an ODI against India; it will be exactly two years to the day since he last played a T20 international, against England in March 2019.

Gayle is scheduled to return to Pakistan for the remainder of the PSL after the last T20I, on March 7 – an arrangement that had been agreed upon after the draft but before the season began. In fact, the PSL had announced just before the season that Faf du Plessis would be a partial replacement for Gayle just before the season began, though they did not specify why such cover was needed.

But this recall, under the captaincy of Kieron Pollard, marks a significant milestone in Gayle’s career, as well as for West Indies, coming as it does in a year in which they will be preparing to defend their T20 world title. That tournament is due to take place in India in October-November, West Indies having won the last edition of the tournament also in India, in 2016.

At 41, Gayle’s future – international and otherwise – has been the subject of on-off discussion since the 2019 World Cup. Prior to the event, he had said the World Cup would be his last ODI cricket, though he reversed the decision during the tournament itself. He then turned out for the ODIs against India after the tournament, blasted a 41-ball 72 before walking off – to handshakes from opponents and applause from fans – as if it was his last game for West Indies.

He took a brief break from all cricket at the end of that year but upon his return in January 2020 at the Bangladesh Premier League, said he was still open for a return for West Indies – also joking that he might continue playing till he was 45. If he does play at the T20 World Cup, he will be 42.

Though the announcement of du Plessis as cover hinted at a return, the actual reasons for Gayle flying back were revealed, inadvertently*, in a PCB press release after his 68 (off 40 balls) against Lahore Qalandars failed to prevent a nine-wicket defeat. Gayle has batted at one down for Quetta and scored 39 off 24 balls in the first game, another loss to Karachi Kings. Chatting to Gayle on his experience of returning to Pakistan after 14 years, the release said that Gayle “will leave shortly to feature in the West Indies’ T20I against Sri Lanka back home.”

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