Johannesburg: When the West Indies bat at the World Cup, all the talk will be of Brian Lara - and that suits opener Chris Gayle just fine. The stylish 23-year-old left-hander has been the model of consistency in recent months and Carl Hooper's team will be looking to him to continue the devastating form he showed in India. He hit three centuries in his country's 4-3 One-day series win, to provide the foundation of an assault on the World Cup.
Gayle hit 140, 103 and 101 in India, but such clinical hitting wasn't always the Gayle way as his early days at the top level highlighted an erratic manner as well as a suspect technique. He had a tendency to shuffle slowly across his crease which made him easy prey for the seamers who had him lurching forlornly outside the off-stump. But the seeds of a new-found patience bore fruit in the Caribbean last year when he hit 204 in the second Test against New Zealand in Grenada although it was a sign of maturity that the score left him far from pleased - he had Lara's Test world record score of 375 in his sights at the time.
Gayle confessed that impetuous youth had got the better of him in the past. "I missed out on a number of opportunities to make big scores in previous matches, but it is time for me to make up for all that lost time and try not to look back, only look forward," he said. "I guess at the start of my career I lacked the experience. As time passes and you play more matches, you get to learn much more from playing and from the senior players in the team. This along with hard work is what brings the results in the end."
All the hard work has paid off - Gayle is a regular in both Test and One-day teams. His record stands at 2,150 runs from 62 matches and a healthy average of almost 37. Furthermore, Gayle is also a more-than-useful right-arm off-break bowler with 51 wickets to his name in Limited Overs. With southern African conditions suiting him - he has scored two 50s in Zimbabwe and hit his maiden One-day ton against Kenya - it could be that the West Indies may not have to pin all its hopes on Lara over the next six weeks.