© Getty Images

Chris Gayle, who has replaced Lendl Simmons, last played for Windies in the World T20 2016 final. © Getty Images

The last time he turned out for Windies was back on April 3, 2016, at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens, when Carlos Brathwaite, then a rookie, had smashed four consecutive sixes off Ben Stokes to win Windies the World Twenty20 title.

Gayle, now 37, recently became the first man to score 10,000 T20 runs and has a Windies record 1519 runs from 50 T20 Internationals, scored at an average of 35.32 and a strike rate of 145.49. Windies – led by Brathwaite since the end of that World T20 – would be hoping that Gayle adds significantly to those numbers when they take on India in a one-off T20I at Sabina Park in Kingston on Sunday (July 9) to round off a short limited-overs series.

In their last bilateral series in the format, Windies got the better of Afghanistan 3-0 in June, with all the matches played in Basseterre. But it hasn’t been too hot a streak for them outside of that series, with Pakistan, especially, seemingly having their measure. Pakistan swept a three-match series at ‘home’ in the United Arab Emirates in September 2016, before pulling off a 3-1 win in the Caribbean in March-April this year.

Teams (from)
Windies: Carlos Brathwaite (capt), Samuel Badree, Ronsford Beaton, Chris Gayle, Evin Lewis, Jason Mohammed, Sunil Narine, Kieron Pollard, Rovman Powell, Marlon Samuels, Jerome Taylor, Chadwick Walton (wk), Kesrick Williams.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), R Ashwin, Shikhar Dhawan, MS Dhoni (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant, Ajinkya Rahane, Umesh Yadav, Yuvraj Singh.

Largely keeping their faith in the squad that did duty against Afghanistan, the Windies selectors brought in Gayle at the expense of Lendl Simmons, the opening bat who played in the middle-order and managed only 6, 17 not out and 15 in the three games. Coming as that sequence did after an average run for Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League 2017, where he scored 137 runs in seven outings with two half-centuries, Simmons was left out.

Gayle himself has been off the boil too. In IPL 2017, he tallied 200 runs from nine innings, a 77 from 38 balls against Gujarat Lions early on in the script his only knock of substance. Prior to that, in the 2017 Pakistan Super League too, Gayle managed just 160 runs from nine games for Karachi Kings.

If Gayle finds a place in the Windies XI on Sunday, as he should, Brathwaite will be right in expecting big runs from the big Jamaican, who will be playing his first T20I at Sabina Park, his home ground. Especially because it would mean a tweak to the batting order, with Gayle logically slotting in at the top in place of either Chadwick Walton or Evin Lewis, who opened against Afghanistan. Neither of them did exceptionally well, though, Walton scoring 51 runs with a best of 29 and Lewis 70 with a best of 26. That series, really, was headlined by Marlon Samuels, who scored 35, 22 and 89 not out to top the charts and win the Man of the Series award.

That top order will need to deliver to stretch Windies’ 4-2 win-loss record in the format against India, who come into the match after sealing the preceding One-Day International series 3-1. Ominously for Windies, Virat Kohli has looked in great touch. His 87 in 66 balls in the win in the second ODI was solid, but the unbeaten 111 in 115 balls in the series-clinching win in the final game was outstanding.

Ajinkya Rahane was the best batsman in the ODI series, which India won 3-1. © Getty Images

Ajinkya Rahane was the best batsman in the ODI series, which India won 3-1. © Getty Images

It’s not just Kohli. Ajinkya Rahane was amazingly consistent in scoring 62, 103, 72, 60 and 39 in the five games. Shikhar Dhawan, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik and MS Dhoni all had at least one good innings, while the bowling was excellent on the whole too. Umesh Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav and Hardik Pandya were miserly and got among the wickets, while R Ashwin and Mohammed Shami kept things tight and struck occasionally as well.

Indeed, bar the botched chase in the fourth ODI, India have looked great, and despite being away from home, should fancy their chances.

The last time they played T20Is, it was at home against England earlier this year, when they won the three-match series 2-1. Considering that and the form they showed in the ODIs, India should start favourites in the Sunday game.

One of the things to look out for, from the Indian point of view, is whether they keep Rishabh Pant in the mix.

Pant, possibly the most exciting short-format young batsman in Indian cricket at the moment, was blooded in that third T20I against England, but faced just three balls to score five not out. He warmed the benches during the ODI series and must be itching to have a go. If he does, and comes good, it could make for fascinating viewing.

But India did lose the rain-hit two-T20I series in Florida last August against Windies, and there is the Gayle factor, which wasn’t there then. Of course, Gayle isn’t the only threat in the Windies side. There’s Samuels too, among others. Get those two early, and India would have taken huge strides towards ending the tour on a high.