Shannon Gabriel believes that his controversial comments to Joe Root during the St Lucia Test in February 2019, were “blown way out of proportion” and says he will not hold back in the coming series, if given the opportunity to play.
Gabriel was handed a four-match ban, and issued an “unreserved apology”, after the stump microphone at the Daren Sammy Stadium overheard Root rebuking him with the words “there’s nothing wrong with being gay” following a mid-pitch altercation. Gabriel later claimed that he had asked Root “do you like boys?”
However, speaking in the build-up to the first Test of West Indies’ bio-secure series in England – for which he has been selected among the reserves as he recovers from an ankle injury – Gabriel was unrepentant, adding that he and his team-mates were simply focused on retaining the Wisden Trophy that they secured with their 2-1 win on home soil.
“To be honest that was in the past,” Gabriel said. “I don’t really think about it too much. Whatever happened or whatever was said, I don’t really want to harp on about that, I’m just looking to the future now. I’ve just come here to play good cricket if selected, and do my best for West Indies cricket.
“I just think the way they dealt with it was blown way out of proportion,” he added. “The story that was told was not entirely true, but I just want to move on and forget that.”
The circumstances of the coming series may require players on both sides to be more guarded on the field, given that the lack of a crowd may lead to more of their conversations being picked up by the stump microphones.
Gabriel, however, was adamant that the chat would keep flowing between the two teams, and that the intensity of a Test match would not be lost despite the emptiness of the stands.
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“You can’t get away from a bit of personal banter,” he said. “As long as it stays in the rules of the game and it’s not disrespectful, I don’t think much will change. It’ll be a different feeling from playing in front of a packed crowd to no-one in the stands apart from players and the support staff.
“But when you step on the field you are playing for your country, and if you are not going out there to give 100%, I don’t think you should be on the field. So no-one will be going on to go half-hearted. We’ve come here to try and win the series and we’ll fight as hard as we can.
“There’ll be no hard feelings, we’ve come here to play cricket, whether it’s against Ben Stokes or whoever, I just want to play to the best of my ability and get them out. It’s not about targeting one player or anything like that.”
Gabriel may struggle to get an opportunity to feature in the Tests, given the strength of West Indies’ current crop of fast bowlers – among them Kemar Roach, who is on the verge of becoming the first West Indian since the retirement of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh to reach 200 Test wickets – and the new young star, Chemar Holder, who impressed for Barbados in the Regional Four-Day competition.
Gabriel is one of the 11 reserves in West Indies’ touring party Getty Images for ECB
However, at the age of 31, and with 45 Tests under his belt, Gabriel knows that he has plenty to offer the squad even while he’s not playing.
“It’s a good experience,” he said. “There are a lot of young fast bowlers coming through which is exciting for West Indies cricket. So rather than just get myself prepared, I’m trying to lend any knowledge and experience onto them that they can take into their game.
“The ankle is good at the moment, no pain, no aches. I’m about 85-90 percent fit, but in terms of bowling fitness and match readiness, I still have some more work to do to hit my rhythm, but there are still three weeks and two warm-up games before the first Test match.
“Of course, I came to England to give myself the best opportunity to play a Test match, but there’s a lot of fast bowlers here, which is exciting,” he added. “I’ve been looking after them for the first week basically, then trying to get back my fitness, and after that it’s up to the selectors and the coaching staff.”
West Indies’ victory in 2019 was built around the success of their fast bowlers, with Roach to the fore and Gabriel playing a key support role alongside Jason Holder and Alzarri Joseph. And looking ahead to the return series, he said that he sees little need to change the recipe.
“I don’t think the plan should shift too much from what we did in the Caribbean,” he said. “What we did was successful, we shouldn’t fix anything that’s not broken, if it doesn’t work we go to plan B.”