'This century can kick off my form' - Gayle
Chris Gayle's scorcher of a century in Mirpur took Dhaka Gladiators to their second BPL final, and gave the tournament the international leverage it required.
Having arrived in Bangladesh barely 12 hours before the match, he batted as a Twenty20 expert, despite a hectic travelling schedule. After the game, one could easily have forgotten that he had entertained a near full-house for 90 minutes, when one saw his composed self during the post-match press conference: it was typically Gayle, expressionless. He took the 51-ball innings as another step in his quest to return to form, which had deserted him late last year when West Indies toured Bangladesh.
"Things didn't go according to plan the last time I came to Bangladesh," Gayle said. "This century can kick off my form, and [hopefully] it can continue into the international scene in the next couple of weeks."
Gayle has now scored ten Twenty20 hundreds in 129 matches for 12 teams. The 12 sixes he struck took his count in this format to 349, a staggering 112 more than the next man, his Gladiators team-mate Kieron Pollard.
The innings was extraordinary because of the circumstances in which it was played: they had slipped to 64 for 5 in the ninth over. At the time, Gayle decided to allow Pollard to play himself in and wait for the Royals' fifth bowler to come on.
"It is never easy for the batsmen when wickets keep falling at the other end. I usually try to be calm in these situations, but I decided I would step up the run-rate. I batted out a few overs and tried to make sure the batsmen at the other end got a start. Eventually, I tried to build a partnership with Pollard.
"It was a situation when you have to back yourself. In the last few overs, I tried to gain momentum by picking off a few makeshift bowlers, and that was it."
Once the fifth bowler arrived, Gayle helped himself to 85 runs. Suharwadi Shuvo was struck for 24 and Nazmul Islam Milon for 29 in their respective overs. Gayle took 32 runs from two overs of part-timer Paul Stirling, as he neared to an unprecedented tenth T20 century.
Gayle and Pollard had taken a 17-hour flight, only arriving on Thursday evening, to join an already formidable Gladiators side. "It is a long flight. I came straight from Australia last night, so to get into a game is never easy. Eventually, Pollard and I pulled through. We gave the team what was required and put them into the final."
But all of this was nearly toppled by the efforts of Mushfiqur Rahim and Elton Chigumbura, who struck Mashrafe Mortaza for two sixes off the first two balls of the last over, when Royals needed 24 runs to win. The Gladiators, however, were able to hold their nerve, winning by four runs. For most of those few last balls, not even Gayle was sure as to what would transpire.
"It was a close call in the end. They needed 24 off the last over. The first two balls going for six will put any bowler under pressure. Eventually we came off [with the win]. It was a good game that went down to the wire, but we are glad to come out on top."
Gayle said he will be leaving Dhaka on Saturday morning, but Salim Chowdhury, owner of the Dhaka Gladiators, had other ideas. "He wants to leave, but we will do everything to keep him. Pollard is staying, so we will try to persuade him to stay."
Even without Gayle, the Gladiators have an enviable line-up, but they may not have the sufficient firepower to turn 64 for 5 into 197 for 9 in just 70 balls.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent