LIKE a breath of fresh air, West Indies' swashbuckling opener Chris Gayle has returned to resuscitate an outfit that was losing its credibility as a Test-playing nation while rapidly progressing along the road to become the laughing stock of cricket.
Virtually at the foot of the ICC's Test and One-Day rankings for what appears a generation, the Windies were in urgent need of a talisman, and as someone who had already been to the mountain top in leadership and performance, Gayle was ideal to spearhead this thrust.
Since the return to the international game of the big left-hander who has a penchant for intimidating the most assured of bowlers, there has been an admirable sense of purpose and a renewed confidence so glaringly missing in the past few series, especially among the younger players.
As has always been the case, the players believe in him, and so far, Gayle has delivered with aplomb.
Much more than any theoretical or boardroom banter, a critical aspect of cricket is on-field leadership and mentorship of younger players, which is not necessarily to be found in the designated captain.
Players who are in the process of 'wetting their feet' at the highest level need a practical role model — not an individual preaching theory, but one who is a tangible guide on the intricacies of batsmanship, even while the game is in progress.
Most recently, we saw the talented Kieran Powell being shepherded towards his maiden Test century by the experienced and high-profile Gayle, who was looking on from the other end and was quietly offering advice while allowing the younger leftie to play his natural game.
Indeed, it must have been a confidence-booster for Powell to be so guided towards his treasured milestone by one of the most feared batsman in the modern game, and by another leftie at that. These seemingly unimportant things do matter in cricket which, in large measure, is about one's mind-set at any given point of the game.
Despite batting together for the first time, the opening pair of Gayle and Powell looked rock solid and even at this early stage, must be seen as that magic combination the team has long been searching for.
One now wonders what would have obtained had Gayle been involved in the recent series against Australia and England when the Windies struggled to get meaningful starts in every Test match played during that period. By failing to get off the ground, they were always behind the proverbial 'eighth ball' and ultimately found it difficult to extricate themselves.
Having again shone in the Indian Premier (IPL) Twenty20 League for the Royal Challengers Bangalore this season to emerge the leading run-getter in successive tournaments with 733 runs at an average of 61.08, including a tournament-best 128 against the Delhi Daredevils during his international exile, Gayle has demonstrated the capacity to shift gear in both atmosphere and format.
Proving his 18-month absence was a luxury the team could ill-afford at a critical transitional point, Gayle's 'second coming' has been characterised by a proliferation of high scores since missing the first ODI against England through injury, effectively embarrassing the regional board and questioning its wisdom in decision-making.
Gayle made a quick-fire 53 off 51 balls in the second game against England before returning to this part of the world to hammer the New Zealand bowling into submission while notching top-scores of 53 and 85 not out in the two T20 games played in Fort Lauderdale.
Clearly on a mission, the flamboyant Jamaican came home to Sabina Park and picked up where he had left off, slamming a half-century (63) and a century (125) in the first two ODIs against the Black Caps to set the stage for a sweet series triumph.
With his latest raid of 150 runs in the first innings of the current Test match against the Black Caps in Antigua — his 14th in Tests — Gayle achieved an astonishing six innings over 50 runs since his return to the side, in the process reclaiming his place as its premier and most prolific batsman.
The fear Gayle drives into teams and their management was manifested in the constant reference to the giant ball-beater by the New Zealanders after the T20 series and the first two ODIs where they repeatedly identified his early dismissal as key to their chances of victory.
As a team struggling to prove it still belongs in the realm of the competitive international arena, not to mention harbouring thoughts of reclaiming past glories, the Windies are mandated to play their best available players at this juncture, regardless of personal agendas, inter-island bickering and personality clashes.
Despite the' residual issues' that may still exist subsequent to the protracted dispute between the soft-spoken batsman and the regional cricket authorities, Gayle's re-appearance in the maroon colours has been so phenomenal that perhaps it's time to bury the proverbial hatchet and move on, in the best interest of West Indies cricket.