SUNDAY TIMES WEB DESK:Self-proclaimed “Universe Boss” Chris Gayle reminded bowlers they have every reason to fear him, smashing 424 runs for the West Indies in the recent one-day series against England that ended 2-2. The 39-year-old announced his intention to retire from one-day internationals after the World Cup but he has since prevaricated. Gayle is not a top fielder although he more than makes up for it with his freewheeling and often devastating batting. Allow him time to warm to his task and he will punish any side.
Indisputably the best batsman in the world, Virat Kohli has a strong case to be regarded as the finest of all-time in ODIs. His statistics alone are staggering: 10,843 runs in 227 matches at an average of almost 60, a strike-rate in excess of 90 and 41 hundreds. A youngster when India prevailed on home soil eight years ago, Kohli was firmly in the shadow of Sachin Tendulkar. Now the 30-year-old is shouldering the expectation of more than a billion Indian fans but, with 14 centuries in his last 39 ODIs, is certain to be relishing the challenge.
Controversial opener David Warner, 32, is back on the international scene, alongside Steve Smith, after a year-long suspension for his role in a ball-tampering saga that blighted Australian cricket. English crowds will be quick to remind the belligerent left-hander of his fall from grace but that could spur him on to greater heights. Warner proved the attributes that made him such a devastating presence at the crease have not dimmed as he topped the batting charts — 692 runs in 12 matches — in the Indian Premier League, where he formed an unlikely alliance with England’s Jonny Bairstow.
Fakhar Zaman, 29, was a key player in Pakistan’s rise from no-hopers to shock victors in the Champions Trophy in England two years ago, when the left-hander was man of the match in the final after a century against India. Zaman became only the sixth batsman to record an ODI double century when he smashed 210 not out against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo last year and averages more than 50. He again showed what he is capable of during the recent ODI series against England and, alongside Babar Azam, will be counted on to deliver.
In a star-studded batting line-up that will strike fear into many bowling line-ups, England’s Jos Buttler could be their most valuable commodity. An average of more than 40 with a strike-rate approaching 120 paints its own picture. Buttler, 28, can destroy attacks and change the course of matches in the blink of an eye and is particularly devastating towards the end of an innings. England’s Jofra Archer found himself up against some of the world’s best batsmen during the recent Indian Premier League but he still reckoned his most difficult challenge was bowling to Rajasthan Royals teammate Buttler in training. “The best player I faced was Jos Buttler in the nets,” said Archer.