Fasten your seatbelts, the Gayle force is in town for a party

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Fasten your seatbelts, the Gayle force is in town for a party

THE SouthernTIMES Mar 20, 2018

    > Robson Sharuko

    Harare – If there was any doubt that cricket fans in Zimbabwe are in for a big party this summer when the icc World Cup Qualifier 2018 explodes into life across the country from March 4, West Indies big-hitting batsman and showman Chris Gayle provided that appetiser with just a single photograph of himself on the plane.   

    The 38-year-old Jamaican superstar is expected to be one of the big stars of the three-week cricket showcase in Harare, Bulawayo and Kwekwe when 10 countries fight for the two tickets available for a place at the 2019 Cricket World Cup in England and Wales.

     The Windies became the first team to arrive in Zimbabwe for the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier when they touched down in Harare on Sunday – exactly two weeks before the tournament starts – in a demonstration of how serious they are about qualifying for the global showcase next year.

     They were led by skipper Jason Holder and received a rousing welcome at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport with a traditional dance group performing for them as they emerged from the airport’s arrival lounge.

    The Windies were also in Zimbabwe late last year for a Test battle against the hosts.

     Gayle, who is expected to be one of the star attractions at the three-week tournament, was not part of the Windies side that arrived in Harare on Sunday but officials from the Caribbean side told journalists he was on the batch that would arrive the following day.

     The hard-hitting batsman, who is a specialist in limited overs cricket, then posted a picture of himself at the airport, holding a passport, on his way to Zimbabwe on his social media accounts before posting another picture sitting in the plane ready for this tour of duty.

     And, as is always the case with Gayle, there was a show to accompany the pictures with a photo of him in the plane holding a glass of wine as if to suggest to everyone, who cared to come across his social media platforms, he was ready to party and rock and roll in Zimbabwe.

     Gayle chose to help his country qualify for the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup rather than pocket a good pay cheque playing in the Pakistan Super League, which will be played at around the same time.

     His compatriots, Andre Russell (Islamabad United), Sunil Narine (Lahore Qalandars), Darren Sammy (Peshawar Zalmi), Samuel Badree (Islamabad United), Darren Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Lendl Simmons have chosen to play in the Pakistan Super League.

     England’s Chris Jordan, Kevin Pietersen and Ravi Bopara have also committed themselves to playing in the Pakistan Super League.

     Gayle’s decision to commit himself to his country, rather than boost his personal bank account, is a major boost for the Windies given that the 38-year-old is one of the best players in the world in limited overs cricket.

    Known as the Gayle Force, the hard-hitting batsman has 39 international centuries, including 15 in Tests, 22 in ODIs and 2 in Twenty20 Internationals, and was the first cricketer to score centuries in all the three formats of the game.

     He has also thrived in Zimbabwean conditions and scored an unbeaten 153 off just 160 balls against the Chevrons at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo on November 22, 2003, and then followed that with an unbeaten 112 at Harare Sports Club eight days later.

    Gayle also scored a double century, 215 runs, against Zimbabwe in the last World Cup at the Manuka Oval in Canberra, Australia, on February 24, 2015.

    “We are really excited to be here. It’s a lovely place,” Windies captain Holder said after his team’s arrival in Harare.

    “The last time we came here we had great success and hopefully on this tour, we’ll have success again and qualify for the 2019 World Cup.

    “We are well supported here . . . the fans here adore cricket, they are big cricket fans, they love us and we love them so we have come here to put on a really good show for them, entertain them and make them happy.”

    The West Indies will open their campaign on March 6 against the United Arab Emirates, who won the ICC World Cricket League Division 2 last week, with a seven-run win over Nepal in the final with the losing team going into the other group which features Zimbabwe and Afghanistan.

     The top three from each group will advance to the Super Sixes, where they will each play three matches against teams they did not meet in the preliminaries.

     The West Indies, who are two-time champions of the world after success at the inaugural ICC Cricket World Cup in 1975 and a successful defence of their trophy four years ago, on both occasions in England, have to try and qualify this time around.

    This is because the ICC has reduced the next World Cup to a 10-team affair and the top eight-ranked countries – hosts England, Australia, South Africa, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, New Zealand and Sri Lanka – automatically qualified for the showcase.

    Bulawayo’s Queens Sports Club and Athletic Club, Harare Sports Club and Old Hararians Sports Club in the capital and Kwekwe Sports Club in the Midlands city will share the 34 matches in the qualifying tournament. The final will be staged at Harare Sports Club on March 25.

    The organisers have said fans who want to watch the group matches will enter the stadiums free of charge and, with a host of some big-hitting players expected to grace the occasion, it’s likely to spark interest among the local even though concerns linger about their team’s capacity to make it to the World Cup.

    The Chevrons are just coming from a disappointing tour of the United Arab Emirates where they lost the Twenty20 International battle 0-2 against Afghanistan before slumping to a demoralising 1-4 series defeat in the ODI matches.

    Interestingly, the two teams are in the same group.

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