Sammy's ensemble ready to back up Gayle

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‘We thrive on setbacks’ – Sammy

Chris Gayle. Destructive. Chris Gayle. Massive. Chris Gayle. Best T20 batsman. Right from the time West Indies arrived in India, Darren Sammy has summoned courage from these words, even using them as incantations to rouse confidence.

Unlike some captains who prefer not to talk up their gun player – as much to not add to the pressure as not wanting to jinx him – Sammy has no problem harking back to Gayle every time. Wobbly middle-order? There’s Gayle to make up for it. Areas of concern? There are some… but then we have Gayle.

Sammy is confident it won’t overwhelm Gayle. “There is never too much pressure on Chris.” Sammy is probably right. Evidence of that, if you need it, can be seen at West Indies’ practice. Gayle ambles to the nets, pats a few balls, misses some and in due course larrups successive deliveries into the vacant stands over deep midwicket. The routine plays out on loop for some time before Gayle has a seat in the shade.

As the sun begins to set he is messing with a media person from the ICC who is interviewing with him. Gayle has taken a liking for his interviewer’s fancy camera and is fiddling with it. It is the media guy’s turn to be asked a question: “Which team are you supporting?” When the answer isn’t West Indies Gayle mock threatens to take his camera away. All in a day’s work.

Watching Gayle go about his thing it is hard to imagine a team beset with off-field worries. Equally hard is getting your head round the fact that here is a team preparing for its opening game in the World T20. Gayle’s statesmanlike presence – not that he lugs such baggage around – in a young, exuberant side hits home only when you notice the smattering of grey on his beard

“Whichever dressing room Chris Gayle is in, because he such a destructive figure – there always seems to be pressure on him to perform,” Sammy said. “But Chris is just gearing up to do what Chris has done throughout his T20 career. That’s why he is the leading run-scorer in T20s and has, I think, 12 or 13 hundreds [16] and the next person has seven or six.”

What is also hard to overlook, however, is how the batsmen that follow Gayle have fared. In West Indies’ warm-up game against India, the middle-order froze against the spinners after Gayle was dismissed for 20 off 11 balls. In their second warm-up game against Australia, they were spiralling downwards at 72 for 6 in a chase of 162 before Sammy manufactured a heist. The likes of Dwayne Bravo and Denesh Ramdin did better in their four practice matches in the UAE recently but there are question marks over how consistently they can notch up such performances, especially against spin in the middle stages.

Sammy, though, vouches for his senior players, and feels Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali won’t be hard to counter on a surface more hospitable to seam bowling.

“If you look at our middle, where you have potentially Marlon [Samuels], Bravo, Ramdin, [Andre] Russell at six. Bravo is one of the most experienced as he has been playing in these conditions,” he said. “Wankhede is a more seamer-friendly track; the games that have been played at the IPL tell you that.

“You have Bravo, Russell, Sammy, Jason [Holder], Carlos Braithwaite… that’s a lot of power, so the key for us is each player accepting their own personal role in the team and be responsible and not leaving it for any one person.”

Darren Sammy’s hitting rescued West Indies in their warm-up game with Australia © AFP

Sammy cited the Australia game as an example of West Indies becoming more efficient in finishing games. While Sammy ransacked an unbeaten 50 off 28 balls, Braithwaite blasted 33 off 14 and Russell 29 off 15 as they reached their target with a ball to spare. Sammy feels that a robust lower order has ensured his team remained unfazed by tall scores or dire situations. He may not admit to it but they have also covered for the batsmen higher up a little too often, maybe, for West Indies’ comfort.

“Playing T20 all over, you gain experience,” Sammy said. “I am 32 years old and I have gained a lot of experience playing and being in the situation, especially batting at six or seven, most of the times you will get maximum eight overs unless the team really collapses.

“So I have developed a formula for my game. I have watched [MS] Dhoni do it all the time, just take the game all the way down to the last over, give yourself the best chance. As a captain, that lower order of ours always makes me smile. Russell, the last three tournaments he has played, he has been MVP. You have the young and exciting Carlos, and myself. That game against Australia gave us more belief that from whatever position we are, the job could be done.”

At the end of a long training session, though, there were other things to be worried about. Gayle and Bravo were curious to know if a full house would turn up at the Wankhede on Wednesday night. The West Indies are ready to put on a show.

Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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