Gayle announcement casts shadow
Chris Gayle was thousands of miles away on Thursday from rainy Hove, the West Indies' first port of call on their tour of England.
The master-blaster opener is still highly unlikely too to be around for any of three Tests in which a youthful squad are cautiously optimistic of proving competitive against their world-beating hosts.
Yet it was Gayle's name which resonated through the gloom and chill at the County Ground, where coach Ottis Gibson and captain Darren Sammy were voicing high hopes for an exacting tour which will begin here on Saturday against Sussex.
All it took was Gayle's assurance from afar that he will be available for selection after all - once he has finished his Indian Premier League campaign with Royal Challengers Bangalore - in time for the limited-overs leg of the Windies' trip.
Gayle, who theoretically could be done with this year's IPL in two and a half weeks' time if Bangalore do not buck up their ideas, was never remotely likely to be named in the West Indies' Test squad.
It nonetheless fell to Gibson and Sammy to react to the former captain's statement, much to the dismay of Somerset, that he will be free to play for his country and not his county next month.
The coach was unequivocal in welcoming his readiness, after a break-down in negotiations with the West Indies board, for international cricket for the first time since last year's World Cup.
"It's great to hear that Chris is available again. I'm sure the selectors will pick him, because he's world-class," said Gibson.
"If he's made himself available for the one-day series, I can't see him not being selected."
Gibson, unable to shed any light on the source of Gayle and the board's long-running disputes, has begun to forge a new team ethos - and he and Sammy are at pains to point out that whoever returns or comes into their "family" will have to conform.
Asked whether he favours old or new personnel - Gayle is one of several high-profile West Indies players plying their trade at IPL - Gibson said: "I'd like to go with whoever can help us win, whoever is available.
"A lot of those guys, because of IPL, have made themselves unavailable. You can't pick guys that aren't available."
That of course creates significant problems in moulding a team.
"It's a challenge. The IPL ... has taken away some of our big names," he added.
"But our fans at home are seeing a better brand of cricket with our not-so-big names.
"Ultimately, people just want to see the team playing well - no matter who's in it.
"Last time we came (to England), we had a whole lot of big names - and the Lord's Test was over in two-and-a-half days.
"We haven't got the same big names now, but aim to be very competitive."
They will have to do so, in the first instance at least, without Gayle - but Gibson, like many others, will be expecting plenty from the prodigal opener as soon as he does return.
"It will be very easy (for him)," he said.
"He's the best one-day batsman in the world. So I don't think it will be a problem at all."
He is optimistic too that Gayle will adapt to the Gibson-Sammy regime.
"He plays very well, going into many different dressing rooms all round the world and making runs," he added. "I don't think coming into ours will be any different."
Sammy will be happy to invite Gayle back in too - but, it seems, on the captain's terms.
"The Chris Gayle issue has been going on for a while. But we as a team have moved on," he said.
"In the last series we played we came out with a new attitude - where we are not going to let anybody keep us down.
"We are going to strive to move forward.
"When Chris joins the set-up, he will be coming into a very hard-working environment - which he has to fit into.
"As a captain, whoever comes into the dressing I know the coach and I would welcome them.
"Obviously we would urge them to contribute to the team's success.
"If he is in, it is all good for us.
"We all know what he is capable of doing and we hope he could fit in nicely and do the job to take West Indies cricket forward."
It is easy to forget that Sammy has more pressing concerns - how to galvanise a team ranked seventh in the world against table-toppers sure to relish their home comforts.
"The guys work hard for each other. Ever since coach Gibson came on board he has tried to instil the professional attitude," Sammy added.
"One of our team mottos is to display a positive, 'can-do' attitude at all the times.
"The whole mind-set is about doing it for the West Indies people. That is at the forefront of our minds.
"The guys are starting to shape like a family, and you can see that when we are on the field.
"For me the job is getting easier and easier."