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If there is a template of how to build a Twenty20 innings then West Indies produced it against Australia, but there is still one more match to go
October 5, 2012
Features : 'Gangnam' Gayle liberates West Indies
Features : Gayle provides knockout blow
News : West Indies muscle defies tricky pitch
Series/Tournaments: ICC World Twenty20
Teams: West Indies
Johnson Charles shouldered arms to the first ball of the West Indian innings and Kieron Pollard holed out to the last ball. In between those two balls, West Indies mounted the most sensational assault that defied prediction and logic. You couldn't say it was without precedence though, because it was on this ground that the West Indians had pulverised the Australia bowlers for 191 runs in their league encounter but were beaten by the rain rule.
But the pitch then was young and fresh, the bounce was even and the ball carried, and the outcome of the match was largely inconsequential. To better that performance in the semi-final on a tiring pitch, though a far smoother one than for the first semi-final, West Indies needed at least one extraordinary performance. They got one better: they got the perfect Twenty20 innings.
When it is commonplace, bowlers being thrashed out of wits can be a tiresome sight. But tonight it came against the tide, or the run of play, as it is said in sports. The average score at this ground in this tournament had been 150, and in the Super Eights 148. West Indies were expected to play a few big shots: but what they managed to pull off was almost beyond belief. From the start to the finish, it was the purest and the cleanest, and the most flawless exhibition of power-hitting.
Chris Gayle hit one to the second tier, Pollard jammed his bat on a yorker and it sped to the ropes and a mis-hit from Dwayne Bravo cleared long-off. It was breathtaking, and if you were an Australia bowler, frightening.
In seven matches since the Super Eights started, 48 sixes had been hit at Premadasa. That made it a rate of 3.42 per innings. Sri Lanka hit none in the first semi-final and Pakistan managed, just barely, one. West Indies produced three in the first six overs, and they kept coming, and getting bigger.
It would be reasonable to assume that Chris Gayle would be the propeller-in-chief of any West Indies charge. Remarkably on this occasion he was the fulcrum. You could hardly call a man who savaged 75 runs off 41 balls the anchor, but he allowed the West Indies innings to surge around him.
West Indies went into this tournament as one the favourites primarily because they carried the world's most adept and explosive Twenty20 batsmen. In reality they had only won one match in normal time until today, against England, alongside beating New Zealand in a Super Over. But astonishingly each of their big guns fired today. Even the best writer in the business couldn't have scripted it better.
Every batsman got going. Wickets fell periodically, but never together. And instead of halting the innings temporarily it gathered momentum with each new batsman. Marlon Samuels hit two sixes in his 26; Dwayne Bravo hit three in his 37 and Pollard three in the final over. It would have always seemed inconceivable that Gayle would bat through an innings in a high-scoring game and not score a hundred. But he faced only 41 balls, and was happy to do so. A lot has been spoken about his lack of commitment to the West Indies cause; he couldn't have played a more committed innings than this.
Things also turned to gold in the field. Opening with a spinner is commonplace in Twenty20 and it has been the norm in this tournament, but Darren Sammy chose the unconventional option of opening with a legspinner, although one that has done it regularly at domestic level, and Samuel Badree rewarded him with a wicket in the first over. He chose Samuels, who has been used exclusively as the death-over bowler, for the second over, and suckered Michael Hussey into spooned sweep.
Ravi Rampaul came on first change and claimed two wickets in three balls. It nearly sealed the match. Badree looked poised to finish his spell in the eighth over when Sammy changed his mind and introduced Sunil Narine who had troubled Mathew Wade on Australia's tour of West Indies, and Wade duly top-edged the second to backward square.
The local fans cheered lustily from the stands today. The animosity towards Australia still runs deep in this part of the world. West Indies wouldn't worry about those same fans turning against them on Sunday.
What they might be worry about is that the perfection they achieved bordered on the freakish. Have they peaked 48-hours too early? But it is unlikely that will keep them awake tonight. The partying surely will. When the West Indians waltz, cricket feels so much more fun.
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