By Tony McWatt

“Welcome Back,” said TV Commentator Stacy-Ann King as a thunderous strike from Chris Gayle’s massive bat sent yet another Adam Zampa delivery soaring 93 meters beyond the boundary for the third of Chris Gayle’s eventual seven sixes. Gayle scored an imperial 38 ball 67 that included 7 sixes and four fours to help the West Indies secure a Series sealing victory in the July 12 third encounter of their five-match T20 Series against Australia. His innings also took him past 14000 runs in his T20 career.

Gayle’s 67 was his first T20 half-century since 2016. Having made just 102 runs in nine innings since his recall earlier this year, he was under serious pressure to produce. His dismal returns had left many including some of the Caribbean Region’s most noted analysts, several former players among them, questioning his continued inclusion in the West Indies squad as it prepares for its participation in the ICC T20 World Cup later this year His welcome return to form has now effectively silenced those doubts and there should no longer be any questions as to his inclusion in the eventual West Indies World Cup Squad.

The same can now also be said about both Shimron Hetmeyer and Andre Russell whose respective knocks in the July 20 2nd ODI, were the batting backbone of the West Indies’ eventual victory. Hetmeyer’s delightfully matured 36 balls 61 which included four sixes and two fours, featured in an innings restoring partnership of 102 runs with the promoted Dwayne Bravo who scored a 34 ball 47*. Their partnership allowed the West Indies to recover wonderfully from the precarious position of 59/3 after 7.4 overs.

Following Hetmeyer’s dismissal, Andre Russell engaged in a most timely reminder of his own power-hitting skills, bludgeoning two fours and an equal number of sixes, in a knock of 24 off of just 8 balls! The last of Russell’s two sixes secured the West Indies’ victory.

In addition to the timely, squad inclusion justification, knocks from Hetmeyer, Russell, and Gayle the other most welcomed revelation of the Australian T20 Series to date has been Hayden Walsh’s outstanding leg-spin bowling. Having not played in any of the previous T20 Series matches against South Africa, Walsh has so far claimed 8 wickets in his three outings against the Aussies. His demonstrated ability to take wickets during the crucial middle overs has been a most pleasing aspect of his performances. His middle overs bowing in tandem with that of Fabian Allen’s has also provided the West Indies attack with real spin potency that should serve them well during the forthcoming World Cup.

With eight of the fifteen scheduled preparation matches having now been concluded, to my mind the West Indies best starting XI for the World Cup has now identified itself as follows: Evan Lewis, Lendyl Simmons, Chris Gayle, Shimron Hetmeyer, Kieron Pollard (Capt), Nicholas Pooran, Andre Russell, Fabian Allen, Dwayne Bravo, Haydn Walsh and Obed McCoy with Jason Holder as 12th man. All that is, therefore, seemingly now left for the Selectors to do would be to use the remaining seven T20 preparation matches, two against Australia and five more to come against Pakistan, to identify the most suitably deserving options for the remaining six positions on the eventual 18 member squad. If 18 is indeed the intended squad size for the World Cup.

The remaining six members of the current squad of 18: Simon Cottrell, Fidel Edwards, Andre Fletcher, Akeal Hosein, Kevin St Clair, and Oshane Thomas should now each be given their respective fair shares of outings over the next seven matches to establish their World Cup Squad inclusion worthiness. Selection Chairman Roger Harper has said that his panel is “locked in and stuck” with the current 18 member squad, supposedly on account of the Covid induced difficulties associated with adding new players.

Despite Harper’s statement, however, there are a few within the bubble-protected West Indies’ squad for the upcoming ODI’s against Australia who should also be given opportunities during the Pakistan T20s, if their performances suggest as much. Shai Hope, Darren Bravo, Jason Mohammed, Alzharri Joseph, and Romario Sheppard are among those who could potentially provide much value as members of the West Indies T20 World Cup Squad.

The days and weeks ahead should therefore now prove to be very interesting in terms of the West Indies Brain Trust’s approach to the team selection choices for the remaining T2o World Cup preparation matches against Australia and Pakistan. In the interim, however, all West Indies cricket fans should joyously welcome Chris Gayle’s return to form and in the words of the man himself: “Just respect the Universe Boss, let him play cricket and have some fun. Enjoy the moment with Chris Gayle, a strong West Indies team and some good youngsters."

Welcome Back Boss!