Sydney: West Indies captain Jason Holder on Thursday played down Chris Gayle's absence from training on the eve of the team's crunch World Cup Pool B match with South Africa at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Gayle, who has a chronic back complaint, hit the highest-ever individual World Cup score of 215, containing a record-equalling 16 sixes, in Tuesday's thumping win over Zimbabwe in Canberra.
Holder said 35-year-old Gayle was being nursed through the tournament to ensure he was in the best possible shape to play. "In terms of Chris's fitness, obviously he's been struggling over the past with his back. So we're trying to monitor him as best as we possibly can," Holder told reporters at the SCG.
South Africa skipper AB de Villiers laughed off talk about Gayle's absence from training. "He doesn't train often. I played with him in Bangalore, and you don't often see him in the nets. His body is quite old for his age, I think. He needs to look after himself to make sure he gets on the path with all the games," he told reporters.
Gayle said he has had the back injury since January last year and was managing it. "It's the same back injury. I've had it since last January. It can't seem to be solved, to be honest with you. It's a bit of a mind thing. I try and do a lot of massage. I'm a person that likes to go to the gym, and I've been restricted from that for a couple of months, as well," he said this week.
Holder, 23, who was pitched into the hot seat as captain of the notoriously fractious Windies team, said Gayle exerted a big presence in the dressing room. "We've always rallied around Chris. Chris is one of the most jovial people in the dressing room," Holder said.
"He brings a different atmosphere. He brings a lot of fun. He's a big team man, and his presence is pretty much felt in the dressing room. It was a really good feeling not only to see him get a hundred, but going on to get a double hundred. He's broken records, and he's set the path in world cricket in a sense. I think it's important that his success is crucial to our overall success. We love him," Holder said.
De Villiers knows what a dangerous threat Gayle poses to his side in Friday's SCG showdown. "The fact that he scored runs is definitely not a surprise. It's not a surprise to see him bat like that," he said.
"It's a matter of making sure you make your plans against him. He's a world-class player and he can win games for his team in almost any situation," De Villiers added.
Holder, who replaced Dwayne Bravo as captain after the West Indies sensationally abandoned their tour of India last October over a contractural dispute with the WICB, said he was getting to grips with the leadership role.
"Every day I would say it gets better. Obviously, we have our difficulties inside the dressing room. Every team has that. But we just try to get the best out of our players, I think the guys are really coming to terms with me being captain. I've spoken about building a relationship with the players, and I think I'm getting there slowly but surely. It won't happen overnight, but I think the longer I'm here, the more I'll build relationships," Holder added.
Holder said left-arm spinner Suleiman Benn was recovering from back trouble which kept him out of the Zimbabwe match and could feature on the normally spin-friendly SCG pitch. "We just monitored him yesterday and scans showed there was no real damage towards his back, so that's a good sign for us. Hopefully, we'll see how he pulls up tomorrow and we'll make a decision based on the conditions," Holder concluded....