Johnson Charles isn't finished just yet

Johnson Charles scored a brisk 66 AFP/Getty Images

Johnson Charles became the forgotten man of West Indies cricket after their - and his - second T20 World Cup title in 2016. Since the end of that tournament and the start of the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia, Charles had played just five T20Is.

But, after strong returns in CPL 2022, he returned to West Indies' T20I set-up and earlier this year, and smashed a 39-ball hundred in Centurion - the fastest by a West Indian in men's T20Is, bettering Chris Gayle's 47-ball effort.

Charles, however, wasn't supposed to travel to the UAE with West Indies' ODI squad for the ongoing three-match series, but Devon Thomas' suspension opened the door for an unexpected comeback in the format.

In his first ODI in almost seven years, Charles scored a 19-ball 24 and followed it up with a match-winning 47-ball 63 in the second ODI, indicating that he is by no means finished, and shouldn't be forgotten.

Charles' main strength is still intact: clear the front leg and swat the ball to the leg side. But he has also expanded his game by hitting with similar power down the ground and through the off side. The new-found range was on display on a hot and humid evening in Sharjah on June 6.

"I just had to work on the basics," Charles said after the second ODI. "It's not much, but just trying to keep my balance and not trying to over-hit the ball and having a strong base. And hit the ball where it has to be hit and that's what I've been working on."

The Daren Sammy impact

Charles 2.0 appeared at CPL 2022, where he tallied 345 runs in nine innings at an average of 43.12 and strike rate of 133.20 for St Lucia Kings. His coach was Daren Sammy. Charles and Sammy go back a long way. Sammy was Charles' first T20I captain and they went on to win two T20 World Cup titles together. Charles has a stand named after him at St Lucia's Beausejour Stadium, which has been renamed in Sammy's honour.

Charles hailed Sammy's leadership skills after West Indies wrapped up a 2-0 series victory against UAE with one game to go. "Not just mine. It [Sammy's leadership] has a positive impact on everybody's performance because he's an inspirational leader," Charles said. "So that positiveness will run down on the other guys, and it will definitely push us to bring out our best.

"Positiveness is definitely up there as No. 1, and inspirational. These are the two main things about his coaching that I could highlight right now."

UAE are currently ranked 19th in ODI cricket and their team is in flux, with Robin Singh recently ending his role as director of cricket following a prolonged lean patch, and Mudassar Nazar taking temporary charge of the team. Charles, though, insisted that West Indies haven't taken UAE lightly, and are pleased with their own progress in the lead-up to the 2023 ODI World Cup qualifier, which is set to start in Zimbabwe on June 18.

"People could say what they want, and people make their judgements," Charles said. "It's fair enough but we know we never take any opposition for granted. So, saying that, it's very nice we came up with a series win. Two out of two so far, and you know I find that the team is gelling very well as a unit. We're definitely playing to our strengths and working on that and playing to how we want to play in the World Cup qualifiers and going forward. So, I think that we've played well, and we've definitely not taken them for granted. So, that's a good thing."

Since CPL 2022, Charles has had a good run in franchise T20 leagues. Notably in the BPL 2023 final in February, where he cracked an unbeaten 79 off 52 balls from No. 4 to give Comilla Victorians their fourth title. He even earned a call-up to Kolkata Knight Riders' squad for IPL 2023, but didn't get a game.

"Going back to the basics and trying to get them right all the time; if not, then most of the time," Charles said of the change. "That has been working for me [in T20 cricket] along with the positive mindset. Yes, I just lapsed a little bit [in the second ODI in Sharjah] and that cost my wicket and you know it [hundred] is going to come."

Charles was on Thursday added to West Indies' ODI squad for the World Cup qualifier in Zimbabwe*, replacing injured spinner Gudakesh Motie. And although Kyle Mayers, fresh off an IPL stint with Lucknow Super Giants, is set to partner Brandon King at the top, further contributions in the oppressive Sharjah heat could put him contention for a starting spot.

Not many gave Charles a chance to return to the West Indies side, but he is now the only man from the XI that beat England in the T20 World Cup final in 2016 to be involved as a player with this current team.

*1955 GMT - This story was updated with news of Charles' call-up