Gayle walks on air as West Indies fly back
Chris Gayle whipped up the fifth fastest century by balls faced in Test history as West Indies refused to be blown over on a dramatic and heated day in Perth. Gayle unleashed the controlled fury of a captain who had watched his bowlers struggle for penetration with a 70-ball hundred that catapulted his side to 2 for 214, a promising collection which still leaves them 306 behind.
Australia felt chirpy after declaring at 7 for 520 but were soon silenced by Gayle's hot blade as he clumped 102 within 25 overs. The WACA has hosted some brutal innings and this one probably included the biggest six at the ground, with one of his straight sixes off Nathan Hauritz landing on the roof of the towering Lillee-Marsh Stand.
That rocket, which was powered by his charge down the pitch and a free-flowing swing, took him to 91 and it was appropriate that his century came with another six, this one sailing over the sightscreen. It was his fourth clearance off Hauritz and sixth of the innings, prompting him to drop to his knees for a praiseworthy celebration. Everyone watching deserved to be bowing down at him.
After a hard-working, unbeaten 165 in Adelaide, which re-floated his side after their three-day defeat in Brisbane, Gayle followed up in his traditional style. This was a batsman preening and flexing, exterminating the frustration of time in the field.
Sulieman Benn, the giant spinner with a seriously grumpy alter ego, had signalled that West Indies would not slip away meekly when he started a lengthy confrontation with Brad Haddin that ended with Mitchell Johnson pushing the bowler away. Gayle then showed the right sort of aggression for a modern cricket field, an innings containing defence and leaving with Twenty20-style explosions thrown in.
Gayle is without two of his best batsmen - Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Adrian Barath are out injured - on a surface with a reputation for supporting fast bowlers. He didn't care. His team might look fragile but he was not going to be pushed around. Four boundaries were taken in Johnson's opening two overs to set Gayle's tempo and he would calm down only momentarily.
The debutant Clint McKay was initiated with a four in front of point first ball and returned after tea to be swatted down the ground and lifted for a six to long-on. Gayle barely followed through and with his score on 79 from 46 balls there was a chance he could tackle Viv Richards' record of 56 deliveries. It didn't happen but, like Adam Gilchrist's 57-ball effort in Perth during the 2006-07 Ashes, it didn't matter.
Strokes that would usually wedge in the mind were replaced at the speed of a wedding-ceremony slideshow. When Gayle flicked Doug Bollinger over square leg to bring up his half-century from his 34th ball it seemed like the shot of the series. An effortless swing cleared the fence on one of the world's biggest grounds and the batsman's heart-rate would not have fluttered. More grunt followed the grace.
The Australians were in shock and awe, especially Hauritz, who will do well not to have nightmares of Gayle's right leg stepping down at him. Ricky Ponting kept Hauritz on hoping for a mis-hit, and there was an edge on 81 that was spilt by Michael Clarke at first slip. If Gayle missed a century it would have been a bigger crime than the physical confrontation of Benn and Johnson.
He didn't and after such carnage his dismissal was as weak as the winds in the eye of a storm, a limp waft at a short ball floating to Shane Watson at point. Bollinger was the bowler but the noise that followed was for Gayle's innings of 72 deliveries, which also had nine forgotten fours. As he exited to the first ball of the 24th over he had all but 34 off his side's 136.
Travis Dowlin was the almost silent partner but his 55 was hugely valuable until he scooped a catch to gully off Johnson. By stumps the tourists had Ramnaresh Sarwan on 42 and Narsingh Deonarine on 10, while Johnson, McKay and Hauritz were left to tend their bruises.
It was a day for runs, none of which went to Ponting. He did not bat due to his injured left elbow, but closed the innings midway through the second session after Haddin had built on the work of Watson, Simon Katich, Michael Hussey and Marcus North. On another day Haddin's 88 from 91 balls would have been the most memorable and North's confident 68 would have been discussed with appreciative nods. Sorry, but Gayle's special circumstances relegated them to small mentions.
Australia resumed the second day at 3 for 339 and quickly lost Hussey for 82, with Haddin soon doing his best to impersonate Gilchrist. Gayle did a better job, but Haddin's collection was important in inflating Australia's total, which is still intimidating despite West Indies' forceful reply.
Haddin threatened to become the first Australian of the series to score a hundred, but instead became the 15th local to reach a half-century during a purposeful innings that gained intensity with his elongated debate with Benn. The complicated exchange inadvertently brought in Johnson when the bowler pointed at Haddin and accidently brushed his partner's shoulder.
It had all begun when Haddin took offence at Benn and Johnson running into each other when the bowler was fielding in his follow-through. The ultimately harmless episode was an unnecessary and ugly period that showed both teams have some fight left after three weeks of play. It didn't help Benn though, as he returned 1 for 87 off 28 overs, but added to the excitement of a breathless day.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo