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Gayle gives WI early spark

Hitting-Out-Bang, bash, belt, slash, slog, swat, swipe!

Pick your choice of words. It’s time to jump on the bandwagon, wave and come alive for all cricket fans following the current ICC World Twenty20 Cup in India.

In whatever form or fashion you are watching or listening, West Indies have surely gained immediate attention with the commanding six-wicket win over England at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Wednesday.

They achieved a target of 183 with 11 balls to spare as Chris Gayle was at his brutal best in becoming the first ever batsman to score two centuries in the history of the Tournament.

The statistics were fascinating. Exactly 100 not out off 48 balls with five fours and 11 sixes – his century coming off 47 deliveries.

I liked the way David Hopps penned his report for cricinfo. “Chris Gayle, at 36, knows that he could be playing his last World Twenty20 and, judging by the manner in which he pulverised England at the Wankhede, he intends to go out in style. England’s bowlers began the night fretting about the dew, and ended it drenched to the skin and sight of Gayle raining sixes into the sky.”

“Nobody has hit as many sixes in a World T20 innings as the 11 Gayle dispatched in Mumbai, breaking his own record of 10 against South Africa in Johannesburg in 2007. Seven flew down the ground, the other four further along the leg-side arc and apart from a leap from Joe Root in a failed attempt to intercept the one that brought up his 50, all England’s fielders could do was watch.

“His involvement in Australia’s Big Bash had been tarnished by criticism for his manner in an on-field interview: perhaps he had retribution in mind,” the report noted.

Retribution? Well, one should always look forward to a Gayle interview at any time.

“I was focused and I was a little bit pumped as well. Just before I went out to bat, Sulieman Benn said to me ‘Chris you’ve got to entertain me,” Gayle said.

“Sometimes when someone says such things like that, it kind of actually gives you a bit of buzz as well so Sulieman gave me that spark. I said ‘I’m going to entertain my teammate. He’s my drinking partner as well so we’re going to have a few beers… it’s good to get off on a winning note.”

Lol. Keep asking for the entertainment, Sulieman.

Trust me, if you were ever to get close to Gayle and Benn off the field, you could not ask for a better combination of characters.

Just check Instagram for a posting with the pair. Benn says: “Wha to say, 100 in next world Cup? Gayle chirps: “Oops”. Benn chimes: “did it again”. And they repeat it with laughter.

But in all seriousness, the West Indies’ win has quickly left the likes of former Australian captain Ian Chappell wondering if he was not too harsh in assessing the chances of Darren Sammy’s team to recapture the title they won four years ago in Bangladesh.

As highly respected as he is for his great knowledge of the game, I believe Chappell’s attempt to introduce off the field issues like what was labelled by some as a pay dispute with the West Indies Cricket Board, which surfaced before the tournament started, was a bit unfortunate.

Not that one should get carried away with the win because their other Group 1 matches against Sri Lanka (March 20), South Africa (March 25) and Afghanistan (March 27) could prove to be challenges of varying nature before the semi-finalists are determined for showdowns on March 30 and 31 in Delhi and Mumbai and the big final on April 3 in Kolkata.

While we tend to be excited by power-hitting in this version of the game, smart bowling and top-class fielding are also vital aspects as New Zealand have so wonderfully exhibited in both of their Group 2 matches to top the table.

It is amazing that so much fuss was made in some quarters in the weeks leading up to the start of the tournament about the likely West Indies starting X1. Any student of the game with a modicum of understanding combinations would fret little in this regard.

With the likes of Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine, Darren Bravo and Lendl Simmons ruled out of the original 15-man squad for various reasons, the first objective was to assess their replacements in Carlos Brathwaite, Ashley Nurse, Johnson Charles and Evin Lewis.

Inevitably, Nurse and Lewis were not expected to start and once the tour selectors analysed the performances of some of the others, Jason Holder, the Test and One-Day International captain and Andre Fletcher joined them on the bench.

So that a side showing Charles, Gayle, Marlon Samuels, Denesh Ramdin, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell, Sammy, Brathwaite, Benn, Jerome Taylor and Samuel Badree was not hard to predict.

That is not to brush aside any argument about the number of specialist batsmen but realistically Badree is the only rabbit with the bat.

There is no way one can talk about Gayle’s batting without delving into the stats. To this end, Cricinfo has provided such, which must be quoted.

“When talking about batting in the 20-over format, there is Chris Gayle, and then there is everyone else. No other batsman has combined the ability to make huge scores consistently with the ability to get them quickly like Gayle has. Since 2011, he has 1000-plus T20 runs in every calendar year, and in all except one of those years he has averaged more than 45 at a 145-plus strike rate.

“He didn’t start 2016 so well, scoring only 103 runs in five innings in the PSL after aggregating 150 from five in the Big Bash, but he has already started to atone for those failures, and looks primed for more runs through the World T20 and IPL.”

Here is another bit of information, which I found fascinating. In the 100 not out against England, Gayle had the unique distinction of getting all his runs in sixes, fours, or singles. All other 100-plus scores in T20Is have included at least one two or a three, apart from the singles, fours and sixes.

The statisticians, however, came up with very interesting figures in relation to failures by Gayle in Tournament finals. It was noted that in five such innings, he has scored 61 runs at an average of 15.25 and a strike rate of 68.53. His best is an unbeaten 47 off 48 balls in the Caribbean Premier League in 2013, but before that effort, he had scored three off 16 in the 2012 World T20 final, five off 12 in the 2011 Champions League final, 0 off 13 in the 2011 IPL final, and six off ten in the 2008 Stanford T20 final.

For all of that, Gayle is simply dangerous and West Indies have sent a strong message that they mean serious business.

Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for three-and-a-half decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website ( Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Mid Wicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights.

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