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July 25, 2004
Every now and again Test cricket throws up an epic individual battle that sticks in the memory. Dexter v Hall here at Lord's in 1963. Greig v Thommo (and Lillee) at Brisbane in '74-75. Atherton v Donald at a hushed Trent Bridge in 1998. And today we had a contender: Gayle v Harmison, Lord's, 2004.
Chris Gayle, fresh from a forthright 66 in the first innings, was ready to back his formidable eye. Meanwhile Stephen Harmison, who had been strangely subdued in the first innings himself, was ready to move up a gear or two. It made for enthralling cricket, and emptied the bars almost as fast as Andrew Flintoff's blazing half-century earlier in the day.
Gayle had skeetered to 46 when Harmison hurtled in again. Gayle was in stand-and-deliver mode, hardly moving his feet and thrashing through the line. Harmison moved one away at speed, Gayle followed the ball, and edged it. Marcus Trescothick had just moved a little wider at slip, and he and Geraint Jones waved the ball through and looked at each other. Meanwhile Gayle was celebrating his half-century, and rubbed it in next ball with another four. And before the crowd had got its breath back Harmison was at it again, rocketing a lifter onto Gayle's edge ... but it ballooned out just past the despairing dive of Graham Thorpe, who could only get his (wrong) right hand to it from gully.
The fun wasn't over. Gayle turned his attention to Ashley Giles, who was straining for his 100th Test wicket, and larruped him into the Mound Stand for six. Giles will have to wait - unluckily, because Shivnarine Chanderpaul later punched one straight to short leg with his glove, only for Rudi Koertzen to turn down the appeal.
And then it was back to the main event: Harmison jinked in again, Gayle teed off again. A cut flew away for four, then a less-voluntary shot screamed between the two gullies.
In the 24th over of the innings Gayle brought up the West Indian 100 - and took himself into the eighties - with another bullet cut over the infield. It was his 13th four, to go with that six ... but it was also his last. Harmison was operating almost at warp speed now, and a pinpoint yorker zeroed in towards Gayle's boots. They didn't move, but his bat did. This time, though, he could only get an inside-edge, which detonated leg stump.
Gayle was gone for 81, out of just 102. He'd won a few battles, but with 376 runs more to score, West Indies might well have lost the war. Given fine weather tomorrow, England should be one-up by tea-time.
Steven Lynch is editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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