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Gayle, Dilshan and maritime metaphors ahoy

It was all very nautical at The Oval on Friday night

Chris Gayle watches the collapse at the other end, Sri Lanka v West Indies, ICC World Twenty20, 2nd semi-final, The Oval, June 19, 2009
Gayle: one-man band on the burning deck © Getty Images

Generally I'm not a fan of sea-faring metaphors. Like Sri Lanka and the Caribbean islands, Britain is completely surrounded by the salty stuff and the temptation for writers to dabble in nautical nonsense is ever present. But I hope on this occasion you will forgive me, because I'm going to do it anyway.

You see, from the moment Sanath Jayasuriya played his first air shot on Friday evening, he seemed like a hapless extra in a Jaws sequel; a man overboard, thrashing about frantically as he strove to avoid the inevitable. It was an agonising experience watching him call out for new bats, shaking his head in bewilderment, playing blunt cut shots and even attempting a hopelessly vague reverse-sweep. All the time, he wore a frantic, desperate look. Eventually, mercifully, he was gobbled up at fine leg.

Then there was Chris Gayle. Trinidadians and others will say he batted for himself. Jamaicans will say he was abandoned by his team-mates. Neither is really true. West Indies were wrecked in their first over, and if you ever wanted proof of the existence of fate, surely this was Exhibit A. The gods chose humble Angelo Mathews as their instrument and with two innocuous seamers and a leg-side wide, he shattered the stumps three times. From then on, the game had a hollow, broken feel. As Murali and Mendis scavenged amongst the wreckage, the ship went down, with Gayle standing motionless on the burning deck.

Gayle's restrained power was outdone though by Tillakaratne Dilshan who played like an angel in possibly the prettiest Twenty20 innings there has ever been. While his team-mates wielded their bats as though they were mere lumps of wood, Dilshan flourished his magic wand, lapping the ball here, tapping it there, gliding it where he wished. Such was the contrast between his efforts and theirs, it was as though he was playing in digital whilst his team-mates were struggling to tune in their analogue wavelengths.

And before we leave south London for the last time this tournament, we should show our appreciation for the real stars of The Oval: the pigeons. On Friday, they had moved from their regular haunt at short midwicket to field in the deep. But they still managed to flap into shot at every opportunity. And why not. There are those who like to believe that these mottled grey outfielders are the reincarnated souls of Surrey cricketers long departed. And if that really is Jack Hobbs pecking away at square leg, then he deserves his share of the Twenty20 birdseed.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England

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