West Indies muscle defies tricky pitch
On a slow surface not far removed from the pitch that produced a dogfight in the first semi-final, Chris Gayle led a West Indies onslaught that floored Australia and set up a total beyond the West Indies' wildest imagination. The ball often kept low, stuck in the surface and took vicious turn, but anyone who had watched West Indies maul Xavier Doherty and David Hussey might have thought it a batsman's paradise.
Gayle's method of overcoming a difficult pitch was completely different from the response a similar surface drew from Mahela Jayawardene in Sri Lanka's match against Pakistan. While Jayawardene sized up the pitch, put a mental ban on straight strokes, and relied on sweeps and reverse sweeps to push the scoring rate along, Gayle simply banked on brute strength to muscle six sixes and five fours in an unbeaten 75 from 41 balls*.
On one of the most difficult surfaces in the tournament, West Indies blasted the first score in excess of 200. The women's game that preceded the men's semi-final on the same pitch produced three fewer runs across both innings than West Indies managed by themselves.
"We didn't expect that sort of big total," Gayle said after the match. "Watching the games, it was a slow track and we knew that spinners would play a part. What helped us was actually that we captialised on the bad balls and we put their spinner under a bit of pressure, and it paid off for us. We've got power there and that helped us. We had a target to get about 150-160. To get 40 runs extra was a bonus for us."
Apart from George Bailey, Australia also found it a difficult surface to be aggressive on. Both openers were bowled by Samuel Badree deliveries that stayed very low, and Michael Hussey and Cameron White's attempts to spur the run rate were spoiled by balls that held in the pitch longer than expected.
Gayle also had a slow start, making only four from his first nine balls, but was irresistible once he grew accustomed to the pace of the wicket. Australia's attack will feel they did not bowl as badly as the scorecard suggests, but Gayle bullied balls to the fence with such abandon that full toll was exacted of even the slightest errors.
"The way they bowled to me, they put a couple of the deliveries in my slot," Gayle said. "In this format of the game, as a bowler it's going to be tough if you don't get your yorkers right. You're always going to play the penalty if you don't get it right. The majority of the time their variation was very good. Cummins' variation was good, and they did bowl well at us. But a bit of extra power, anything can happen out there."
Kieron Pollard's 38 from 15 balls battered Australia's bowlers further towards the end of the West Indies innings. With West Indies on 187 with four balls remaining, Pollard walloped three consecutive sixes off Doherty to propel West Indies beyond 200, having scorched a 149kph yorker from Cummins to the midwicket fence earlier in the innings. Prior to this knock, Pollard had made only 40 runs in the tournament in four innings. Gayle revealed he had encouraged Pollard to draw inspiration from the blistering innings that heralded his talent to a global audience: the thundering 54 from 18 in the 2009 Champions League T20.
"They were playing his Champions League innings that he played for Trinidad against New South Wales on TV and I said to him, 'Tonight I need the old Pollard back,' and he played that part. There's one more game, so hopefully he can give us that boost again and take us to the title."
Gayle's impact on the match was also remarkable given how little of the strike he saw early in the West Indies innings. He faced only 41 balls in total, despite batting through the innings, and by the 10th over, had only seen 18 balls. Bailey said his side had planned to unleash Mitchell Starc on Gayle early, but they were unable to remove him because he spent most of Starc's opening overs at the non-striker's end.
"Early on we tried and get him out and that was our ploy with Starcy," Bailey said. "The last couple of games we've opened with left-arm spin and we've opened with Watto a little bit, but tonight we went all out with Starcy who's been our best bowler in the tournament to try and get Chris Gayle out. Clever bugger, he just managed to not get on strike. He didn't face much of the ball, but the guys batting around him batted very very well."
West Indies now face a final against Sri Lanka, who defeated them by nine wickets in the Super Eights, and by the same margin in a practice match before the tournament. Gayle said West Indies had learnt from those experiences and will back themselves to spoil the hosts' party.
"We're definitely going to rock against Sri Lanka. We played against them in one of the Super Eight games so we know what to expect - the atmosphere, the noise and everything. It was really good to get that run against them even though we lost. We're definitely going to win this trophy here. I just feel confident about it. We're up against world class players in the Sri Lanka team, but it's going to be good fun."
* October 6, 11.00GMT Chris Gayle's score has been corrected
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka