Gayle, Herath's presence makes the difference
Chris Gayle's numbers and the match result show how catastrophic his batting was for the opposition. One look at the scorecard and it is not very difficult to imagine how the match would have panned out. But if his batting in the semi-final is deconstructed, it would unravel as a very different kind of Gayle innings.
It is the presence of Gayle that has made West Indies intimidating and unsurprisingly, he hogs all the attention. What is commendable and speaks of Gayle's confidence is how he manages to handle that expectation and deliver on it. He was expected to be the threat for Australia in the semi-final. But in this innings, he decided to stay till the end and soak up all the attention. For a fielding side, it then becomes hard to concentrate on the game. Australia seemed to be in such a state of daze.
While they were worried about not being able to get Gayle out, other West Indies batsmen made merry. Marlon Samuels threw some punches, Dwayne Bravo played without any pressure and even Kieron Pollard, the batsmen who supposedly has a weakness against pace, had a kick about because there were no fast bowlers left at the end to bowl at him. It was Gayle's presence till the end that could have muddled with George Bailey's plans.
For a batsman who likes to dominate in the middle, Gayle had to play the waiting game. He managed his innings smartly, giving due respect to Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, while heaving the balls from lesser bowlers. His pattern of scoring was usual - six sixes and five boundaries interspersed with dot balls and easy 'walks' between the wickets.
Gayle reached his half-century at the end of the fifteenth over while in normal circumstances; he is likely to be close to the three-figure mark at that stage. What was important was that the team score at the stage was still where Gayle would have liked it to be. It was his presence in the middle that made the difference.
Rangana Herath had only played two out of the five matches before the semi-final against Pakistan without much success and his combined figures for those outings against South Africa and West Indies were 4-0-37-1. In the same period, his replacement in the team, the young offspinner Akila Dananjaya had impressed with four wickets in two matches. But for a spinner like Herath, who depends on the traditional tricks of guile and loop, Twenty20 cricket can be a challenge in conditions where there is not much help, like in Pallekele and Hambantota where he played the two games.
The semi-final, though, was in Colombo, in conditions that are as typical to Sri Lanka as the craters are to the moon and Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene had no qualms about including Herath. The left-arm orthodox spinner lacks the fashionable variations which his contemporaries brandish, but he has enough knowledge of this pitch to be a threat.
Sri Lanka won the toss and batted first, and although they didn't lose many wickets, they found it hard to score against Pakistan's quartet of slow bowlers, finishing up with 139 runs. In their chase, Pakistan had moved to 48 for 1 after eight overs without much trouble when Herath was introduced. As is his wont, he started tossing up the deliveries to the batsmen who responded by charging out and attempting slogs. A spinner like Herath has to throw baits all day in a Test match to invite such aggression, but in T20s, the batsmen are happy to walk in to the trap, the hatch door to which was firmly in Herath's grip.
He tempted Shoaib Malik with a flighted delivery, which invited the drive, but then gripped the surface and turned past the edge to hit the off-stump. In his next over, as the pressure started mounting on Pakistan, Herath was hit for a four and a six by Mohammad Hafeez, both shots involved taking risks but the bowler had the last laugh in his next over when Hafeez charged down again without getting to the pitch and was duly stumped. The ball of the day, though, was the next ball to the new batsman. Shahid Afridi failed to read the spin on a tossed up delivery outside off stump which to his surprise, turned in to him, took the inside edge and hit the stumps. It was the left-handed carrom ball and Afridi's flummoxed reaction said it all. Herath's inclusion had turned out to be an inspired one as Sri Lanka successfully defended their total and qualified for the final.
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo