Gayle fit for South Africa, hails Fletcher's knock
Be aggressive in the Powerplay and then bat deep. That is Chris Gayle's advice to Andre Fletcher, the Man of the match in West Indies' second win of the World T20 against Sri Lanka on Sunday, and the rest of his team if West Indies are to progress deep into the World T20.
Gayle, who did not bat against Sri Lanka because of a minor twinge in his left hamstring while fielding, is understood to be fit and available for selection against South Africa in Nagpur on Friday.
"In the second game against Sri Lanka I started, but didn't get a chance to bat. But Fletcher came in, played his part and grabbed his opportunity with both hands," Gayle told WICB media in Nagpur. "He played a fantastic knock and carried right through till the end. And that's the sort of thing batters require - once you are set in these kinds of conditions, it is very important to bat as deep as possible and it just makes it easier for the team to chase or set a target, so it is very important to see Fletcher come on board and be Man of the Match."
Gayle said the key for Fletcher was not to be "overconfident" when he goes in to bat next. Fletcher is likely to open with Gayle against South Africa, considering Johnson Charles made a duck against England and 10 against Sri Lanka. "Just continue to play smartly, pick and choose his bowlers to target at a particular time. Also whatever it is that works for him, like continue being aggressive in the first six. It's very, very important to try and capitalise on that new ball as a batter. So just keep that aggression going and once you get past that first six, try and take it as deep as possible, look to pick up the odd boundary in the middle overs as well. Just build on whatever start you get.
"I've opened the batting with him on many occasions so I know what sort of a player he is, he is very dangerous and he's capable of getting big scores as well. So hopefully he can build on this and carry on, not leave it for anybody and get more Man-of-the-Match awards."
Though Fletcher played an aggressive innings, the crowd in Bangalore was desperate for Gayle to bat. He had sat out for about half of the Sri Lankan innings as a precautionary measure, and despite the crowd's urging and his own insistence, he had to wait for a certain amount of time to pass before he could bat. By then the match was over. Gayle finally emerged after the win and thanked the crowd, a gesture that was well received by the fans.
Gayle had already lit up the tournament and made West Indies a force when he hammered a 48-ball century against England in Mumbai last week. The innings had a characteristic that is usually missed when talking about Gayle: patience. In the Powerplay, Gayle had faced barely six deliveries as Marlon Samuels took charge.
Gayle said he was not thinking of the century until he was a handful of runs away. The focus until then was just on riding with the momentum built by Samuels. "I wasn't really thinking about the hundred because if you look at the way we started, after facing the first over, in the second Marlon came in and he actually batted the entire Powerplay. I was saying to myself, regardless of what happens, I need to be here, and the good thing about it is that Marlon was getting the ball away and keeping the run rate intact so it was very important to be there then. We knew they had two spinners, especially a leg spinner, so being a left-hander it was good to be there in the middle overs, it was crucial."
Talking about the century, Gayle said the turning point was him hitting England offspinner Moeen Ali for three consecutive sixes, when West Indies needed 59 runs from the final seven overs. Andre Russell had just come in after Denesh Ramdin and Dwayne Bravo had fallen. "I got some momentum when I took down Moeen Ali - when I got three consecutive sixes. And then the momentum was actually built from there and when the rest of the bowlers come to bowl in the back end, we're always going to be on the go at that particular time. That's when the opportunity presented itself. I had done the hard work already, so I said, 'I've done the hard work, let's get the hundred'. At that point, we were way ahead, and I wasn't going to risk it, and batting there with Andre Russell we just wanted to finish off things. When I got to 96 or something like that, that was the time I said I'll get the hundred."
Gayle said the century brought back memories of his ton in the first edition of the WT20, where he scored a century, too. Having won their first two games, West Indies are now favourites to make the semi-finals from Group 1. "We have a lot of back-up. I shouldn't be using this word back-up, we have a lot of guys who are match winners themselves who actually can do the same thing and destroy different bowling attacks around the world."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo