West Indies coach Stuart Law is sold on Chris Gayle.
In fact, the Australian who seems to be quite popular with the West Indies team, says that the Jamaica and West Indies opener has earned the right for certain selection criteria to be relaxed in his favour.
Law said he was open to showing “leniency” towards selecting Gayle as long as the veteran opener could fulfil certain “guidelines”. Law said he had seen enough during the limited-overs leg of the England tour last month to convince him that Gayle had earned the right for the management to relax certain selection norms.
Gayle played his first ODIs since the 2015 World Cup, having also made a T20 comeback earlier this year. Two instances in particular, during the T20 international at Chester-le-Street and the fourth ODI, at The Oval, assured Law of Gayle’s commitment.
“There are certain players you give leniency to,” Law told ESPNcricinfo, during a wide-ranging interview. “Chris is one of our greatest-ever players. You have got to pay respect to that. Not saying it is an open draw, but there have got to be certain guidelines, which I am still trying to work out. What I saw in the T20 game in Durham and what I saw in the ODI at The Oval was a guy who was committed to the cause.”
Gayle played the catalyst for the first time when he checked the emotions of his opening partner Evin Lewis in the T20I, which West Indies won. “In Durham he slowed the play down for a bit while Evin was batting at the other end,” Law said. “Evin was a bit twitchy facing Joe Root. Three dot balls. Chris realised Evin was going to try and hit the next ball for a six. Chris just stopped the play, walked down, had a quick chat and calmed Evin down.”
During the Oval ODI, which West Indies lost on DLS in a rain-affected match, Gayle was busy helping his captain Jason Holder setting fields in addition to motivating the bowlers.
Law agreed that seniors like Gayle and fellow Jamaican Marlon Samuels were expected to perform, but the two most experienced players could also prove effective by mentoring team-mates during a match, which was the best form of coaching.
Although Samuels has been struggling in the past few years, Law was certain he was committed to the job just like Gayle. “I have not spoken to them at any length about their involvement in the future, but as far as I am concerned, if they are not committed, why are they here? If they are just playing for the sake of playing, I don’t think that is Marlon or Chris. They are here to play because they want to be here. They have got to perform, yes. But imparting knowledge to the youngsters is invaluable. It is tough to build a team without that experience together out on the ground, talking through situations. We can send messages from the sideline, but those don’t have the same impact.”
Gayle has previously had run-ins with the regional cricket governing body and in particular former coach Ottis Gibson. In 2011 Gayle publicly criticized Gibson, accusing him of trying to undermine his career.
“He [Gibson] is a man who sought my advice when things were not going well. I could never imagine he would deliberately try to destroy my character, reputation and livelihood or question my commitment to West Indies cricket. I would not have believed, until I saw it in black and white, that he would devalue my leadership and try to destroy me without giving me a chance to respond,” Gayle protested back in 2011 while affirming his commitment to the West Indies team.
Law took over as West Indies coach in January and in the last eight months, the team has won 11 out of 34 matches under his watch. Among the victories were two Test wins: against Pakistan at Bridgetown and then the thriller at Headingley against England. Law, along with the selectors and director of cricket, Jimmy Adams, has a lot of trust in the young Test unit, whose average age is 23. Law has been a firm motivator and believer in the talents of middle-order batsman Shai Hope, singling him out as having the potential to be a future great.
However, Law’s priority is to make sure West Indies reach the 2019 World Cup. Having lost out on the direct entry route, West Indies will need to finish among the top two at the World Cup Qualifiers next March. With the amnesty put in place by Cricket West Indies recently opening up the potential for some of the best limited-overs players to return, Law is optimistic he will have the services of the likes of Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Darren Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Carlos Brathwaite.
Law also agreed with the relaxed criteria put in place by Adams and CWI chief executive, Johnny Grave, in order for the players to qualify for selection for the ODIs. “I want the best players available,” Law said.
“I am not a selector, but yes, I do sit in on the selection process. There are some qualification criteria that the players have to adhere to. Now the number of games [in domestic cricket] they have to play to qualify has been significantly reduced. That gives them the best of both worlds: they can go out and play certain [T20] tournaments they are already contracted to, but it also gives them time to come back and play the quota [of domestic cricket] they have to be eligible to play ODI cricket.
“The Pro50 finishes about a week before the World Cup Qualifiers, so it would be good to have players play our domestic tournament. They would be playing 50-over cricket before the World Cup Qualifiers, which is essential.