Gayle warning

Chris Gayle

Chris Gayle © Getty Images

In the two years since West Indies’ unlikely ICC Champions Trophy triumph, there has been little to suggest this year’s tournament may bring a repeat performance.

But, despite an indifferent record in the one-day arena since that win, Brian Lara's side still possess an enviable clutch of match-winners.

In limited-overs cricket there are few players who can control a game with the swiftness, power and sheer charm of Chris Gayle.

If Gayle - he of the swinging blade and famously laconic grin - can produce a handful of performances from his top drawer, a second consecutive Champions Trophy for West Indies would not be unthinkable.

Shortly after their 2004 success - against hosts England in a captivating final - Lara's side won just one of six games against Australia and Pakistan in a tri-nation series.

Things got little better after that humbling return, and in their next two home series, against South Africa and Pakistan, they went on a remarkable eight-game losing streak.

Chris Gayle

Gayle remains one of the most destructive players in world cricket © Getty Images

But even when things were at their very lowest ebb Gayle was still dropping heavy hints of his irresistible talents.

In the third ODI against South Africa he hit a crushing 132 and in the final match of the series against Pakistan plundered a thrilling, counter-attacking 124.

Those knocks account for two of Gayle's 12 centuries, a statistic which - matched with 27 fifties - serves notice of a genuinely world-class performer.

With nearly 150 caps to his name, he also has the kind of experience that can make the difference in high-pressure run-chases and account for equally talented but less well-rehearsed opposition.

But Gayle's career has not followed a typical or unproblematic path.

A tall and imposing figure, a young Gayle would have seemed an ideal candidate to follow in the long and distinguished line of West Indian fast bowlers.

A lack of strength was clearly not decisive in his choice to spurn the life of the paceman - because Gayle hits the ball as hard and as far as anybody.

Instead, he decided to devote his time in the nets to off-spin.

Chris Gayle

Gayle's form has been one constant amid West Indies' poor run © Getty Images

Although not an obvious move in a land where seam bowling is held on the highest of pedestals, it has brought the Kingstonian in excess of 150 international wickets - more than 100 of those in ODIs - and best figures of 5-46 against world champions Australia in 2003.

He has also had health problems with which to contend.

In November 2005 Gayle was forced to retire hurt during an innings against Australia in Hobart because of an irregular heartbeat.

He revealed the problem was a long-standing one and soon afterwards left the squad to have an operation - a serious issue for anyone, let alone an international sportsman.

Gayle is famed for his laid-back approach at the crease - but his swift return to the international fold demonstrates a hard-working, professional approach to the game which had once been open to question.

“I have been struggling with this heart condition for a while, and so I decided to do the surgery and get it out of the way once and for all,” said Gayle.

“It has not been easy for me to sit and watch from the sidelines. I really want to play cricket.”

Thankfully, 27-year-old Gayle was soon back in action - and by the turn of the year he was picking up the prestigious cricketer of the year award at the annual Jamaica Cricket Association awards ceremony.

Although his side are not among the favourites to defend their ICC title, Gayle has the ability and the record to lead a surprise charge for the holders.

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