Gayle breaks century drought to keep West Indies alive
The captain Chris Gayle scored his first hundred in three years as West Indies meandered to a 214-run lead with a day to play in the deciding Test of the series. Gayle mixed flamboyance with patience in his 146 not out from 325 balls, which included 13 fours and six sixes, as the visitors finished at 278 for 7, a total which keeps both teams in with a chance.
Gayle was outstanding with his shot selection and judgment, keeping out the testing deliveries from both finger spinners and launching some lusty blows into the stands on the legside. This was his first Test hundred since scoring 317 against South Africa in 2005, an amazing 25 Tests and 47 innings ago.
Gayle combined in a vital 124-run stand with Brendan Nash for the fifth wicket that lifted the team from the danger of 106 for 4 midway through the first session. However, Gayle was unable to find another suitable ally to build the innings around and his tactics changed during the final session. He was forced to curb his natural flair and opt instead for caution in order to ensure his side made it through to stumps.
In the second session Gayle reached his eighth Test hundred with a nervous single to backward point after he spent 40 balls in the 90s. Pushing to Jeetan Patel, he called yes before Nash sent him back. However, Gayle slipped on the pitch just before Patel got to the ball, but the fielder fumbled and Gayle was able to waltz through to complete his century from 189 deliveries.
Nash built on his well-compiled 74 in the first innings with an equally important 65. While his captain scored predominantly straight down the ground, Nash pushed and prodded square of the wicket, making life difficult for the New Zealand attack to adjust to each batsman.
After leaving so consistently outside his off stump, Nash was gifted width on numerous occasions and made the hosts pay by punishing them through point. He also worked off his pads nicely, collecting at will as well as picking up a couple of boundaries. He brought up his fifty off 137 balls with a sweetly timed cover drive off Patel, the most successful bowler.
Nash fought hard through to tea but shortly after the resumption New Zealand took the new ball and James Franklin was brought into the attack. Franklin peppered Nash with short deliveries for an over and he was soon struck on the gloves and the ball ballooned to Jamie How at second slip. The vice-captain Denesh Ramdin (6) followed when he drove loosely off the back foot to Daniel Flynn off Franklin, who collected 2 for 40.
New Zealand needed the wickets, the first since Patel's double breakthrough left West Indies four-down before lunch. Daniel Vettori, who allowed 69 runs from 42 overs, opted for spin for the majority of the day, only really using his seamers once the second new ball was taken. Despite the late bursts from Franklin and Iain O'Brien, Patel remained the hosts' key destroyer with 3 for 83. He removed Xavier Marshall for 18 before following up next ball with the caught-and-bowled of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who misjudged a full toss.
After Nash departed West Indies shut up shop and Jerome Taylor joined his captain in opting for resolute defence ahead of following attacking instincts. Taylor paid the price when O'Brien out-thought him and trapped him leg before with a slower ball that the batsman didn't pick up. Prior to his dismissal, Taylor had to deal with a barrage of bouncers from O'Brien and copped one on the chin. He was out for 8 and West Indies were 272 for 7.
Gayle and Fidel Edwards played out the day safely and the captain holds the key for the visitors. If New Zealand can grab the remaining three wickets early on the final day they stand a great chance of winning. However, Gayle looks in fine touch and he is the man who can stop New Zealand from claiming a crucial series victory.
Marc Ellison is a freelance sports writer