Gayle, Deonarine help West Indies level series
Chris Gayle, hurting after the last-over defeat in the first ODI, delivered a gritty all-round performance with support from Narsingh Deonarine to help steer West Indies to a series-levelling win - their first victory in an international fixture since August last year. The pair got together when Zimbabwe's spinners had, yet again, put in an inspired effort to cripple the hosts in their chase of 207. But Gayle restrained himself amid the quick wickets that followed a fiery start, and opened up in timely fashion with Deonarine once Zimbabwe appeared to step off the pedal, to set the stage for a hard-fought victory. The batting backed up a disciplined effort from West Indies' bowlers, led by Nikita Miller's career-best haul.
A worry for Gayle will be the performance of the middle order, which he had singled out for criticism in the aftermath of the two-run upset on Thursday. When Gayle fell, bowled by Graeme Cremer in the 42nd over, West Indies still needed 39. Though Deonarine made amends for his self-inflicted run-out in the first ODI with a determined half-century, Kieron Pollard again proved irresponsible, holing out to long-on when West Indies appeared to have the match covered. Darren Sammy, one of the two replacements for the axed Denesh Ramdin and Dwayne Smith, too, struggled to hold his nerve - he almost skied one to fine leg - but survived through to the end.
West Indies' weakness against spin continued to be exposed as clever variations from Ray Price, who didn't extract turn from the newish ball but altered his pace, fetched him two early wickets in a miserly spell. Adrian Barath failed to spot an arm ball and was trapped lbw, though replays indicated the ball struck him outside the line, and David Bernard, the other new inclusion, was stumped down the leg side. The wickets had an immediate effect on Gayle's approach - he had targeted the offspin of Prosper Utseya, whom he had struck for two sixes - as the focus shifted from an attempt to pierce the field to seeing off a probing spell from the spinners.
The plummeting scoring-rate - the second Powerplay yielded just seven runs - showed no signs of revival as Shivnarine Chanderpaul ground to ten runs before being trapped in front by Greg Lamb, followed by Andre Fletcher, who notched up his third duck in four games, bowled off a googly by Cremer. The spinners found plenty of turn with the old ball, beating the left-hand batsmen consistently, but Gayle and Deonarine waited patiently - foregoing any attempt at a boundary for 70 deliveries - before stepping up.
While nudging the ball around the in-field, gradually increasing the flow of singles and playing guardedly on a sluggish pitch were the dominant features of their partnership, the cue to accelerate came when the asking-rate had gone past six-an-over. Deonarine initiated the surge, charging down to Cremer in the 38th over and launching him for a six over long-on and slog-sweeping him two balls later for a boundary. The reintroduction of medium-pacer Chris Mpofu into the attack in the next over proved decisive, for Gayle and Deonarine picked him out for treatment, taking 23 off the 39th and the 41st overs, including three boundaries.
Zimbabwe will rue their lapses in the field, and the fact that they conceded 16 wides. They could have had Gayle twice off Cremer, but Tatenda Taibu missed two leg-side stumpings just after the West Indies captain had passed fifty. Cremer, however, did finally get Gayle, but only after the advantage had been ceded. Deonarine continued to find the boundary, pulling Brendan Taylor and then lofting Price over mid-off, and played a chanceless innings while retaining his calm to the finish.
Zimbabwe, by opting to bat, had adopted a similar strategy as in the first ODI, aiming to put enough on the board to give their four-pronged spin attack a chance to test West Indies. But Kemar Roach helped dismiss the Zimbabwe openers early, running out Visu Sibanda and having Hamilton Masakadza caught at third man. Gayle bowled an excellent spell, conceding just 25 in ten overs, and triggered a middle-order wobble with the wicket of Taylor, which broke an enterprising 59-run stand with Taibu. Three wickets fell in a space of five overs - Miller removed both Stuart Matsikenyeri and Taibu - to undo a hard-laid platform.
After the spinners ate into the middle order, Lamb and Elton Chigumbura steadied the innings. Chigumbura, who had initially curbed his attacking instinct, opened up in the 43rd over, lofting Sulieman Benn over mid-off and sweeping him past square leg for successive boundaries. Lamb, though, had struggled for his 23 and succumbed to frustration when he skied Miller to square leg. When Chigumbura, trying to pierce the in-field during the batting Powerplay, fell to Roach the next over, Zimbabwe's hopes of a late onslaught faded, leaving their spinners with a stiffer task than the first game.
Siddhartha Talya is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo