Chris Gayle will make his long-awaited debut for Somerset against Essex tonight (Friday) as the club aims to silence Fortress Chelmsford by taking the attack to the home side.
The West Indian T20 superstar met up with his Somerset mates for the first time last night after a few days’ rest in London following his flight from India where he has been playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL.
In one of the most mouth-watering opening partnerships on the circuit, the big-hitting Jamican is set to open the batting with Marcus Trescothick as Somerset reshuffle their order to accommodate Gayle’s arrival.
Gayle was due to have played for Somerset during his estrangement from the West Indies in 2012, but after reconciliation was reached with the national board, he became unavailable to play for Somerset.
However, he offered the club first refusal should he ever play county cricket in the future and tonight marks the first of a short stint in the NatWest T20 Blast this summer. His signing led to unprecedented numbers of enquiries about tickets and Sunday’s home game at Taunton against Kent is certain to be a sell-out.
Jim Allenby, who top scored for Somerset in last Friday’s opening T20 encounter with Sussex, is the man who has voluntarily made way for Gayle at the top of the order.
The all-rounder said: “I am happy to drop down and am used to doing that in T20’s when I was younger. Opening in T20 is great and it’s the best spot to bat, but we have probably got ten people who want to bat there. When Gayle goes back then hopefully I will go back up the order.”
Speaking about his new teammate, who has 14 T20 centuries and 47 fifties to his name, Allenby said: “We are going to be an entertaining side with Chris Gayle going in our ranks, but that is what we want and what T20 is all about.
“Since I started playing T20 I have said it’s about winning but it is also about entertaining and Gayle is the best at doing that and Somerset favourite Pete Trego isn’t far behind him.
He went on: “If the rest of us do our jobs then we are not only going to be entertaining but hard to beat as well so it is looking quite positive for us for the rest of the tournament.”
Playing Allenby in the middle order will also help extend Somerset’s batting which looked a man short during last Friday night, with Sohail Tanvir coming in as high as number six.
Allenby is also looking to the special atmosphere at Chelmsford: “I am certainly looking forward to batting at Chelmsford but not to bowling! There is a great atmosphere there and they really do T20 well, almost as well as we do at Taunton.
“There will be a good crowd with good pitches and some entertaining cricket. They are probably second or third best at hosting it – obviously we are best, but no I can’t wait to get there. It’s the one you mark in your calendar, batting at Essex.”
While Somerset have lost their only match so far – a five-run defeat to Sussex – their hosts today have played four games already and only won one of them.
Looking ahead to the match Director of Cricket Matt Maynard said: “It can be quite a fortress up at Chelmsford with the support that they get but it is our job to silence them and with their recent results they are in a must-win situation which is a bit of added pressure on them.
Matt added: “They are a strong chasing side but if the wicket looks good then we will make a call. Batting first up there won’t scare us and if our guys come off then we will get an above score on that wicket and we have got the bowling attack to defend.”
The 12-man Somerset squad which has travelled to Essex is: Alfonso Thomas (capt) Jim Allenby, Tom Cooper, Chris Gayle, Lewis Gregory, James Hildreth, Johann Myburgh, Jamie Overton, Sohail Tanvir, Pete Trego, Marcus Trescothick and Max Waller.