WEST Indies opener Christopher Gayle is set to make his first international appearance at Sabina Park since the visit of England in 2009 when his side will do battle with a depleted New Zealand outfit in the first One-Day International (ODI) match, starting today at 10:00 am.
The left-handed batsman only just returned to the team on the recently-concluded limited overs tour of England after a prolonged absence due to a widely-publicised stand-off with the regional Board.
Gayle has already given Caribbean fans plenty to cheer about in cracking back-to-back half-centuries in the two Twenty20 (T20) victories in Florida last weekend and is hoping that he can continue the good form in front of the local supporters.
"It's good to be back and especially in my home town. I hope I can give the home crowd something to cheer about. I always want to impress in front of a home crowd, (but) the right thing to do is to stick to the basics and be calm out there. The (home town) pressure is always there but it is good to have that so you don't relax and get complacent," said the ultra relaxed-looking 32-year-old yesterday.
West Indies captain Darren Sammy has reiterated the call for his team to be consistent and stressed the importance of breaking the trend of getting off to slow starts in recent series.
"We are looking for consistency. For the past few series we haven't started well. We have always played catch-up so right now we are looking to start well and make sure we cover all three disciplines — batting, bowling and fielding — and look to put out a professional display," he said, while adding that the bowling could have been more accurate in the T20 series.
The lowly-placed regional team, lying just behind the 'Black Caps' in the International Cricket Council (ICC) T20 and ODI rankings, easily looked the superior unit in both matches at the Central Broward Regional Park Stadium a few days ago.
New Zealand bowlers will again have their hands full in trying to contain Gayle and explosive right-handers Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and Dwayne Smith.
The visiting batsmen will also have to find ways of keeping out wily spinners Sunil Narine and Samuel Badree as well as pacers Ravi Rampaul and Tino Best.
The 28-year-old Sammy said he was not surprised by the West Indies dominance so far on tour and labelled his squad "a destructive force".
"Looking at the squad, once we go out and play to our full potential, we could beat any team in the world. We have a strong batting line-up and we have good bowlers to defend any target that we post. Once we play to our full potential we could be a destructive force," the skipper said matter-of-factly.
New Zealand will be captained by batsman Kane Williamson, while regular skipper Ross Taylor is sidelined for approximately two weeks with a shoulder injury.
In Taylor's absence, opener Martin Guptill, left-hander Daniel Flynn, all-rounder Jacob Oram and Williamson will be left to shoulder the brunt of the batting burden.
In the bowling department, Kyle Mills, Oram, Tim Southee, Nathan McCullum and newly-included wrist-spinner Tarun Nethula may feature prominently.
The 21-year-old Williamson told reporters yesterday that New Zealand have a massive task against the West Indies, but are aiming to put in an improved showing today and take a 1-0 lead in the series.
"We are up against a very strong side and we are a young side looking to move forward, but we are certainly looking to improve and get a win tomorrow (today). Obviously it wasn't an ideal start... we just have to come out and play our game and put our best foot forward," he said, while noting that the coaching staff and the players have discussed ways of restricting Gayle's potency.
Though without experienced players in Taylor, Brendon McCullum, Jesse Ryder and Daniel Vettori, for various reasons, Williamson said he was surprised at being selected as the stand-in captain, but is keen to lead the team and is looking for all the support he can get.
"Certainly it was a surprise, but it's an exciting opportunity for me. It (being captain) is an interim thing and the guys have been fantastic and they have backed me. I'm looking to make use of the resources in the side to help me," he said.
Yesterday, while groundsmen put on the final touches, the Sabina Park pitch had a thin covering of brown grass that was rolled into the rock solid-looking surface.
Gayle remarked that the surface "looked pretty good and very hard" and said he expects a "good batting wicket".
Williamson said the warm conditions in the Caribbean has provided a "nice" contrast to New Zealand's current winter weather, while sharing: "It probably means the wicket will be very dry with that heat so those are conditions we need to adapt to."
The playing surface at Sabina Park is generally good for batting while favouring seam bowlers with a bit of pace and bounce. Spinners can also look forward to a likelihood of sharp bounce and turn.