A FAMILIAR figure popped his head around the door to the room where reporters had gathered for a press conference after the last day of the third test between SA and West Indies at Newlands on Tuesday.
He was tall. He was broad- shouldered. He was dreadlocked. He was Chris Gayle.
“Are you waiting for me?” he asked with a smile as broad as his bat.
Gayle had gone before we could reply: “Bloody hell yes!”
For most of the test series, West Indies were about as competitive as a teddybear in a bullfight. SA won 2-0, and would likely have whitewashed the visitors had rain not taken 249 overs – or almost three days’ play – out of the match at St George’s Park.
But the T20 series, which starts at Newlands today, is a different animal. This time, SA’s matadors will suit up to face the real thing.
Here’s why: Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Darren Sammy and Andre Russell were not in the test squad, mostly because they can make more money playing in T20 circuses than representing the Caribbean.
Add those players to the test mix and West Indies would have been far stronger. Happily, then, they are in the T20 squad.
SA, meanwhile, have rested AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, while JP Duminy is in the squad but will not play to give him extra time to recover from his knee injury.
Perhaps that is what made Windies captain Darren Sammy confident enough to poke fun at a sentimentally lachrymose marketing campaign that has, is and will find its way to a television screen near you whether or not you want it to.
“I’m seeing a lot of ads about ‘Protea Fire’,” Sammy said. “I guess Cape Town will be blazing, but with a maroon flame.”
Faf du Plessis agreed the changed squads compared to the test series had made the visitors the stronger team.
“They are probably the favourites because they are playing their full strength team,” SA captain Du Plessis said. “But it’s in our conditions.”
Indeed, but Gayle, Pollard, Sammy and Russell were all mercenaries in SA’s franchise T20 competition and will not be unfamiliar with pitches here.
“It’s good to have knowledge, but when I was talking to [David] Wiese [Sammy’s teammate at the Titans] he said it was also a plus knowing our guys,” Sammy said.
Besides, it’s not as if the returning West Indians dominated the franchise T20 competition, despite being billed as its stars. Gayle was fifth among run-scorers with Pollard seventh, but Russell was 16th with Sammy 41st.
In terms of bowlers’ strike rate, Pollard came in 12th.
But, as Sammy said, T20 “boils down to the contest on the field on the day – every ball is an event; the momentum of the game will shift every ball.”
Charl Langeveldt, who is part of the SA squad for the T20 series and the five one-day games, knows a thing or two about that.
At Kensington Oval in Barbados in May, 2005, Langeveldt took a hat-trick to clinch an ODI victory by one run and with it the series.
Gayle played in that match, but he was not among Langeveldt’s five victims. He did, however, score a century.
– Telford Vice