KOLKATA: Skipper Darren Sammy hailed controversial star batsman Chris Gayle as T20 cricket’s most destructive player on Tuesday as he insisted the West Indies’ troubled build-up to the World Cup would not undermine their prospects.
Gayle was branded as a sexist after trying to flirt with an Australian TV presenter live on air in January during the Big Bash League and some Caribbean fans are unhappy he is often unavailable for national duty, but plays in big money Twenty20 tournaments.
However, in a press conference after his team’s arrival in India for the World T20, Sammy said the 36-year-old Jamaican was admired by his teammates for his behaviour on and off the field.
“Chris is a massive figure for us, not only on the cricket field but off the field as well,” Sammy said.
“To me he is the best T20 batsman, the most destructive one in this game so he knows his game inside out.”
Like several other West Indies players, Gayle has become accustomed to playing T20 cricket in Indian conditions after appearing regularly in the IPL over the last decade.
Gayle racked up the highest ever score in T20s while playing for the Bangalore Royal Challengers in the Indian Premier League three years ago, hitting an unbeaten 175 off 66 balls.
He lit up the first World T20 in 2007 by notching the format’s first international century and a recent 12-ball half-century in the Big Bash League illustrated how his powers remain undimmed.
While the West Indies dominated Test cricket in the 1980s, they are now one of the weakest teams in the five-day game.
But they remain a force in the shortest format, winning the World T20 in 2012 and are currently joint second in the world rankings, behind India.
The West Indies’ last visit to India ended in acrimony when the team flew back to the Caribbean in the middle of a tour after a bust-up over pay.
Another pay dispute last month cast a doubt over their appearance in the World T20 and while the row has since been resolved, relations between players and board remain strained.
To make matters worse, all-rounder Kieron Pollard and off-spinner Sunil Narine both withdrew from the initial World T20 squad.
Narine’s absence is a particular blow as he has been one of the standouts in the IPL but he pulled out as he felt under-prepared after serving a suspension for a suspected action.
But Sammy said all the off-field problems would be put behind them.
“Once you step out on the cricket field you shouldn’t be worried about contracts or other stuff.
“At the end of the day we are professionals, but right now is the time to focus on cricket,” he said.
“It’s always difficult to replace someone like Narine but we believe the players in the team could still come and get the job done for us.”