Controversial batsman Chris Gayle will be looking to ensure the West Indies’ troubled build-up to the World Twenty20 becomes a distant memory when they open their campaign against England in Mumbai on Wednesday.
The Windies are out to prove they are still a force in the shortest form of the game despite their declining test status, while England want to atone for a humiliating early exit from last year’s 50-over World Cup.
A pay dispute cast doubt over the West Indies’ appearance in India and while the row was resolved at the 11th hour, relations between players and the country’s cricket board remain tense.
Their preparations have also been hit by the withdrawal of all-rounder Kieron Pollard and off-spinner Sunil Narine, who is T20 cricket’s top-performing bowler and has thrived in the Indian Premier League (IPL).
But in the enigmatic Gayle they possess a batsman capable of destroying whatever bowling attack he faces and single-handedly winning any match, providing he stays clear of off-field controversy.
The Jamaican, nicknamed “Gayle Storm”, faced allegations of sexism after he asked an Australian TV presenter for a date live on air in January during the Big Bash League.
He also lit up the tournament for the right reasons, hitting a 12-ball half-century.
Gayle, 36, holds the record for the highest ever score in T20s, 175 off 66 balls, and hit the format’s first international century during the inaugural World T20 in 2007.
“To me he is the best T20 batsman, the most destructive one in this game so he knows his game inside-out,” West Indies captain Darren Sammy said of the left-handed batsman last week.
But the second-ranked Windies, who are looking to add to their 2012 World T20 title, face a tough prospect at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium in the shape of a new, attack-minded England side.
Eoin Morgan’s team have turned their fortunes around since they were dumped out of the 2015 World Cup by Bangladesh, adopting a more aggressive attitude which has seen them up their run rate.
In Morgan, all-rounder Ben Stokes, opener Jason Roy and classy right-hander Joe Root, England have strength in depth but they will miss injured fast bowler Steven Finn.
England, who won the 2010 World T20, enjoyed a six-wicket win over New Zealand in a warm-up game on Saturday.
“The confidence we take from that is massive,” said Roy.
West Indies (from): Darren Sammy (captain), Samuel Badree, Sulieman Benn, Carlos Brathwaite, Dwayne Bravo, Johnson Charles, Andre Fletcher, Chris Gayle, Jason Holder, Evin Lewis, Ashley Nurse, Denesh Ramdin, Andre Russell, Marlon Samuels, Jerome Taylor
England (from): Eoin Morgan (captain), Moeen Ali, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Liam Dawson, Alex Hales, Chris Jordan, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Reece Topley, James Vince, David Willey