West Indies v India, Group F, Bridgetown May 9, 2010

Captain Gayle leads the way

This innings was Gayle at his destructive best, but it was also Gayle at his most mature and composed as he batted for all bar two balls of the innings

If Chris Gayle leads, West Indies tend to follow. All teams can be inspired by the performance of their captain, yet rarely has the impact been so clear as with Gayle's role within his side. As with Mahela Jayawardene he came within a brace of becoming the first batsman to make two Twenty20 international hundreds, but of far greater significance is that the hosts remain very much alive in this tournament.

This innings was Gayle at his destructive best, but it was also Gayle at his most mature and composed as he batted for all bar two balls of the innings when his bat bounced up when he tried to make his ground. He scored at better than a run-a-ball in the first six, but only just as he assessed conditions were tougher after overnight rain. At the start of the eighth over he was on 26 - Gayle has often had that many to his name before anyone can blink.

He picked his moments and targeted certain bowlers. Harbhajan Singh was allowed to escape with four overs for 16 (much as Johan Botha had been treated with respect by England) and teams are often allowing the opposition's main threat to be played out. Batsmen are confident of being able to make the ground up elsewhere. This time it was Ravindra Jadeja - who has had a tournament to forget - and Suresh Raina who were picked off for 50 in four overs. India again packed their batting, but they were desperate for another bowler.

This effort can rank alongside the 117 Gayle made against South Africa in the opening match of the inaugural tournament and the stunning 88 off 50 balls against Australia last year as his finest Twenty20 innings. "The South Africa one will always stand out more but if you look at the situation here it was a must-win for us," Gayle said. "So to come out and deliver is what we asked for. It was suitable for my style of batting and the ball came on nicely."

The atmosphere inside the Kensington Oval was electric which confirmed how important West Indies presence is to this tournament. Each Gayle boundary was greeted by cacophonous noise as the West Indian fans made sure they out-cheered their Indian counterparts. For sponsors and broadcasters this would have been the perfect final.

Staging the match at 9.30 on a Sunday morning (or 10am after the delayed start) was hardly ideal timing for the local audience, but the needs of the Indian television market are being serviced first. The irony now is that India are looking increasingly unlikely to make the knockout stages. However, despite the early start the crowd turned up in numbers with only a few vacant seats.

"The support has been tremendous," Gayle said. "We had to come out and give the crowd something to cheer about otherwise I'm sure stones would have been thrown. This victory eases the pressure a bit but we can't relax."

Gayle's strokeplay warmed the crowd and one blow - a back-foot drive off Yusuf Pathan - bounced on the top of the 3Ws stand. Locals say they have never see such a blow. It was a monstrous strike. But there was one moment later in the match that was true Caribbean and all too rare these days. Kemar Roach produced a wicked bouncer which followed Gautam Gambhir as he tried to sway out of the line. The ball kissed the glove and Denesh Ramdin leapt off the ground to take the catch. The stands went wild.

The reaction was the same, and perhaps even louder given the match was heading for its denouement, when Dwayne Bravo produced a direct hit from long-on to run out MS Dhoni who was India's last hope. Bravo ended up at midwicket in celebration then had the task of bowling the final over after a nervous Roach bowled four wides and a no-ball to make West Indies sweat. Even on a day when Bravo hadn't been at his best with the ball he wasn't going give up 19 runs.

The local fans are desperate for success - victory still brings huge passion - but they are so used to defeats that it has become the norm. The scenes when West Indies do conjure victory remind of how much they are savoured. As they exited the stands the trumpets were blaring and smiles beamed. It was much the same when Jerome Taylor skittled England for 51 in Jamaica last year. Now West Indies need to repeat this against Australia and Gayle will set benchmark. Once again captain, it's over to you.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo

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