From the moment Chris Gayle descends to the lobby of his London hotel, it appears he does not want to be there. He does not want to be in chilly England, and he does not want to be up early when his preferred habit is to sleep in until 2pm. Then the list continues, and he admits that he does not want to be West Indies captain any more and that he does not particularly care for Test cricket.
Gayle, having arrived just two days prior to the start of the first Test match in which the West Indies were thoroughly trounced, has been fielding quite a bit of criticism over his perceived commitment to his sport and his side. His response? To prove the critics right.
The rest of the article is frankly painful to read, and I feel embarrassed not just for his team, but for Gayle as well, who seems to need a bit of a crash course in media relations. But once the embarrassment wears off, I mostly feel annoyed.
First, what is all this nonsense about Test cricket being phased out in favour of a strictly Twenty20 format? Stop the blasphemy. A Test match demands skills and character that are not tested in a 75-minute innings. It requires more stamina, sustained focus and a different approach to strategy on the pitch. This is why it exists alongside one-day or any other limited overs cricket. It is, in my mind, crucial to the assessment of a national/regional side, and not an old form of the game. It is the game.
It seems to me that amidst the glamour and big payoffs of the IPL, players are realizing that they can play less cricket per tournament and make more money. And in a sport that isn't historically very highly remunerated in comparison to its counterparts at similar levels of play, this is certainly an understandable position to hold. Besides, who doesn't want to play before larger crowds, fuelled by beautiful cheerleaders who - if amateurish and confused-looking - are certainly eager at least? Twenty20 has been credited with birthing new fans of the game, which - for practical (financial) as well as cultural reasons - must be a good thing. I will confess that I tend to be drawn more to matches with calm, stuck-in players in cricket whites with red-ball stains rather than to those with a flurry of colours and errant streamers from poorly-constructed pom-poms. But old farts everywhere felt the same about tennis, and now look at us: Nadal wears mustard manpris and no-one bats an eyelash.
But do we need to choose one or the other? Certainly not. I see no reason why we can't put together a season calendar that reasonably accommodates all forms of the game. I would argue that if we want to preserve Test cricket, we have to reaffirm its prestige. But with the West Indies captain essentially declaring it irrelevant, it doesn't look too good.
My argument with Gayle is that if you have very strong feelings about the suitability of Test cricket to your current career and purposes, as he, in hindsight, claims he does, fine. You know when is an appropriate time to air those concerns? Not the day before the start of your second Test match, after having completely lost the plot at Lords in the first. The Guardian is not your confessor. Write that sh*t in your diary, or wait until you're not taking your squad into a match with morale already low.
And this brings us to the whole mess about him no longer wanting to be captain, which is arguably a far worse statement to make than his take on the fate of Test cricket. Gayle seems sullen, uninspired, unmotivated and whingey. He complains about having to speak, having to travel, having to wake up before noon and having to win. Boy, life as a superstar cricketer sure is hard. I'm sure his wallet is also too small for his millions and his diamond shoes are too tight. It is clear that he was the West Indies' unwilling standard-bearer after Chanderpaul - an equally reluctant leader - and Sarwan relinquished the title. This is fair enough. But you took the job, so now you have to show up. The very hot-potato bouncing around of the captaincy over the last couple years is in itself saddening. It is in part the result of having a young, inexperienced side, but also, I think, of the fact that 'team captain' doesn't mean much anymore.
Gayle does say one true thing, though, of his predecessors:
"In their time they dominated Test cricket," he says. "They don't know what it is like actually to lose and how to deal with it. They don't know how to deal with losing, and then try and get a couple of wins under our belt."
Yes, losing is hard. And trying to pull the West Indies up by its bootstraps is not an enviable task at this moment in cricket, especially given what seems like tension between the desire of the WICB to reestablish our legacy as masters of Test cricket, and that of some players to play a quick twenty and get on with it. (There has to be some consensus from within on the preferred direction, and the matches that players are given leave to play must reflect that.) But you know what doesn't help? Moaning about it in the middle of a Test series. I'm all for honesty in interviews when you're back in Jamaica kicking back on the beach, or at the end of a tour even; or how about after an official announcement? But not now. Now it's time to pull on your big boy underoos and play some cricket.