Former West Indies fast bowlers Sir Curtly Ambrose and Kenny Benjamin said veteran opener Chris Gayle should not be an automatic choice in the West Indies final 11 for the ICC Twenty20 World Cup.
The two Antiguans expressed their views on the weekly radio cricket talk show, Mason & Guest on Tuesday on Voice of Barbados 92.9 FM, where Gayle’s wretched form over the past two years was discussed.
Gayle, the self-proclaimed “Universe Boss”, has made only one T20I half-century in the past five years and averages less than 20 over the period.
He made 165 runs at an average of 18.33 in nine matches for first-time champions St Kitts & Nevis Patriots in the Caribbean Premier League that ended last month in St Kitts.
Gayle played only two of the Punjab Kings’ five matches since the Indian Premier League resumed last month in the UAE, scoring only 14 and one, before checking out of the bio-secure bubble living to “focus on the T20 World Cup”.
Sir Curtly said Gayle’s exploits in the format in the last 18 months to two years do not inspire confidence that he can play typically explosive innings of the past.
“No, he is not an automatic choice for me,” Sir Curtly said. “The few home series (West Indies) just played, he had no scores of significance, and I have said before that if he did not do well in those home series, he should not go to the World Cup.
“However, he will be at the World Cup, but for me, he is definitely not an automatic choice for starting…
“If he gets it going on the day, he can be destructive, but he has not done much in the last 18 months or so to really make me think he will set the World Cup alight.”
Benjamin shared similar sentiments and said it will come down to head coach Phil Simmons and captain Kieron Pollard to make the decision if they are not seeing major performances from the talismanic opener.
“Not for me, he isn’t (an automatic choice),” Benjamin said. “When you look at the team we have, you have (Evin) Lewis and (Lendl) Simmons, these guys have been fairly decent in the last few matches they have played.
“We have got to play our best team. At the end of the day, if before the first game, the coach and captain think our best 11 based on what they are seeing, pre-World Cup, does not include Chris Gayle, that is the way it is. But for me, I do not have him as an automatic starter.”
Sir Curtly and Benjamin also said if Gayle does make the final 11 for any match at the global showpiece taking place from October 17 to November 14 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman, he should open the batting.
“For me personally, if he is not opening the batting, which I would prefer him to do, No.3 is fine,” Sir Curtly said. “Anything outside of opening the batting or No.3 is not suited for him.
“Chris Gayle is not the Chris Gayle we are accustomed to seeing and doing the things he has done over the years. He is 42 years of age. The reflexes must slow down. The hand-eye coordination is not the same, and he has not produced any magic for quite a while.
“On his day, if he gets it right, he can still be very destructive, but we have not seen it for a long time, so let’s hope that he can at least produce some magic during this World Cup.”
Benjamin added: “I would open the batting with Chris Gayle. He has been more destructive when he opens the batting if he gets off. I don’t think we can hope anymore. There is no time to see if Chris Gayle is going to come off, whether today, he might come off, maybe next week. If he is not opening, then for me he is sitting out.
“We have to remember the people playing against Chris Gayle, they have done their homework, and they are going to be starving him and cutting out the big shots and stop him from using his arms, so we have to back him doing what he does best and that is facing the new ball… and once he gets going, he can go really deep.
“To put him down in the middle when the field is spread, there are going to force him to run the ones and twos, and we know that is not going to happen.”
West Indies are assembling this week in the UAE, where they will have a training camp before fine-tuning their final preparations, including warm-up matches against Pakistan and India.
The Windies will start their title defense against England on October 23 in Dubai in a rematch of 2016 final.
Kieron Pollard’s side will also face recent opponents Australia and South Africa, along with two teams from a qualifying tournament in Group 1 of the World Cup.