The game marks the return to the maroon of West Indies greatest prodigal son, Chris Gayle. There is an irony in his return at the same time as England's star batsman Kevin Pietersen is notable by his absence having retired from all but Test cricket, either by his own stubbornness or the inflexibility of the ECB contract or both. Pietersen seemed to have found the spot that suited him in the ODI batting order and England face a challenge without him. A test for Bell in opening and a test for Bairstow or Bopara down the order.
But Gayle is a name to put an additional few thousand on any gate. West Indies' coach Otis Gibson has been loudly and proudly claiming that he is the greatest One Day player in the universe, if not beyond. Now Fantasy Bob is not so naive that he does not understand that there are reasons why Gibson wants to make Gayle feel good and talk up his team, but he wonders how strong that claim is in fact. FB accepts that it more than likely that had FB charge of the World XI to play the touring Martian XI, he would include Gayle in the team. But is he the best?
Gayle's overall ODI figures are 228 matches in which he has scored 8087 runs at 39.06. He has a strike rate of 83.95 and 19 centuries. This is respectable but hardly world beating. How does it compare?
In the last year Pietersen has been one of the most effective ODI bats. His career statistics are 127 matches, 4184 runs at 41.84 with a SR of 86.76 and 9 centuries. This year he scored 281 runs in 4 innings. He therefore goes out at the top. Other contenders on recent form for the crown are AB de Villiers who this year in 8 innings has scored 475 off 409 balls with a top score of 125* and Hashim Amla, currently the ICC ODI Player of the Year, who in 5 innings has 343 off 392 deliveries and top score of 112. Another contender is Virat Kohli whose 11 ODI innings in 2012 have produced 670 runs off 752 balls with 5 tons and a top score of 133*. Each of these bats has career statistics better than Gayle with Amla topping the list with an average of 56.49.
Even looking at the sides that will take the field at Ageas tomorrow, Gayle does not top all the other players. Amazingly Jonathan Trott is has the best ODI average on display tomorrow at 48.31 and Darren Sammy the top strike rate.
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But there is one thing that Gayle has a real claim to be the world's best on. Of the 9633 balls he has faced in ODIs, 946 have gone for 4 and 169 have cleared the ropes. There are only 2 who can compare with this power - Virander Sehwag has faced 7723 ODI deliveries, 1110 have gone for 4 and 136 for 6. but the champion 6 hitter is the crowd pleaser beyond all - Shahid Afridi faced 6202 ODI balls. He hit 298 of them for 6. And he bowls a bit.
By contrast Jonathan Trott has faced 2361 balls in ODIs. He has hit 2 sixes. Gayle or Trott? FB knows who he would rather watch.