The high-risk game
Chris Gayle is the king of Twenty20. His sheer presence under a helmet with bat in hand is intimidating for most bowlers. He can obviously intimidate with his tremendous six-hitting ability. He can also intimidate with what he does not do. He does not change his expression, whether he is on 15 off 30 or 30 off 15. It remains the same if he hits three successive sixes or plays three successive dots.
He has also developed this method of going slow at the start, leaving the opposition even more anxious about what is going to come next. Often, it is carnage. If he is around by the tenth over, and hasn't done much, the bowling side is not doing anything wrong if it expects the worst for the last ten. This method has worked for Gayle throughout the world in the numerous T20 competitions. He takes huge risk in an already risky format, and backs himself to get proportionate returns. That he often does generate those returns shows his pedigree in the format.
Risk is risk after all, though. And the magnified risk that Gayle's method involves means he needs someone to mitigate that risk, to temper it to a more manageable proposition. Dwayne Smith was the answer this night. Marlon Samuels was the answer in the 2012 World T20 final. There was no answer against the Indians two nights ago.
Smith pottered to 11 off 29 against India. He made 72 off 43 against Bangladesh. It was a terrific innings on a pitch almost every other batsman from both sides found difficult to score on. He pulled and swept ferociously and kept hitting boundaries, especially against spin, even as Gayle plodded on. Smith hit 10 of West Indies' 17 fours, and three of their five sixes.
Smith has his on days and his off days, with usually no middle path. On the former, he is a runaway train which runs over everything in its path. On the latter, his inertia is broken by his own downfall. Tonight he was on. Against India he was off. More risk.
The point is all these elements of risk could hurt West Indies badly in a crunch game, in conditions that are not going to get any easier for their hitters who would much rather prefer to have the ball coming on. It has already happened against India, who did not provide any leeway for West Indies to push on from a slow start. Their fast bowlers got the new ball to dart around, and their spinners then took over in helpful conditions. Fortunately for West Indies, it was their opening game in the tournament, and not a must-win one. Even more fortunately for them, Bangladesh then produced an apologetic performance on the field. How many times will you see successive deliveries go for four byes each, or the same fielder dropping catches off successive balls?
When asked if it was team strategy for him to go after the new ball while Gayle played himself in, Smith said that if he made runs, Gayle would be free to do what he was doing. "I don't know if it is a strategy or not," Smith said. "My aim is to get off to a good start and that's how I play. It's just for me to keep scoring and if Chris is working himself in, at least there won't be pressure on him if I am scoring freely."
Of course, the pitch was not easy to accelerate on. And even Gayle ideally would not take so much risk that he reaches a strike-rate of 100 only in the 18th over. It was probably one of those days where it just did not come off for him. It can happen to the best of batsmen. There can be a case that you have invested so much in your build-up that you then do not feel like throwing it away. And before you know it, the end of the innings is approaching. Seeing what we have from Gayle in the past, it is unlikely this approach will not pay off for him in some game in this tournament. Smith was confident about that.
"I am sure that Chris would get the runs at some point of time in this tournament because he has been batting through the first six, he has been batting to ten 10 overs. I am sure that at some point, he is going to get off to a good start, get some good scores."
Again, the point is, this approach could also pull West Indies down to the point of no return. It is high risk after all. There are always two sides to it.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo