Allan Donald, the Pune Warriors coach, has said that his players were "scared" after the thunderous assault from Chris Gayle, which set up an enormous 130-run victory for Royal Challengers Bangalore. A day after the demoralising defeat, Donald admitted that he feared the "mental damage" the innings might have caused his players and said his biggest challenge was to keep them positive for the remaining eight matches.
"We came across a bloke yesterday who was just devastating," Donald told ESPNcricinfo in Bangalore. "I have never seen hitting like that in all my life. To see our guys getting pummeled like that was unbelievable. When I walked out for the first strategy break, I just saw people scared, really scared. I just mentioned to the players that if we don't pull this back here, he is going to take us down big time, which he did."
Donald realised that the bowlers were clueless and if he did not deliver a stern message, Gayle could play havoc, which he eventually did with ease. "When I looked at their faces and no one said a word, the only way for me was to be very firm in my message; we had to find a way," he said. "We also discussed in the meeting on the morning of the match that we had to bowl out batsmen who were not going to give up their wicket. We needed someone to stand up and do something special and stop the flow of runs."
As a response Donald observed blank faces. By the second timeout, in the 16th over, Gayle had doubled the team score, taking it past 200 and Donald was frustrated. "To me that plan was about how we were going to limit the damage in the next four overs. The plan was to go full into his pads and also vary the pace," Donald said.
The mental scarring Gayle has inflicted on his players has left the coach worried. "How much damage has this done to us mentally? My job becomes even harder now and I have to make sure these guys are ready against another team that is struggling (Delhi Daredevils) on a ground we have never played (Raipur)," he said. "This group now needs to rally together."
Barring the pair of Bhuvneshwar Kumar (4-0-23-0) and Luke Wright (4-0-26-1), at the start and end of the Royal Challengers' innings, Gayle attacked the rest mercilessly. Donald was not shy to take the blame. He said the bowlers lacked consistency and the team was one experienced strike bowler short.
"We haven't been brilliant," he said. "We have been okay in certain games and really off the boil in the others. And that is one area where we have let ourselves down. We do not have an attack that is express pace; we don't have a Dale Styen or a Shuan Tait, though, we have fair bit of class in Kumar and Ashok Dinda."
At the same time, Donald pointed out, Gayle was unstoppable and intimidated the bowlers. "There were times during that knock where he just went ballistic, and then he took a little timeout and then he went again," Donald said with a chuckle.
After the match, he asked Gayle, "Why us?" Gayle said he was in the mood. "He has just said that is the best he has ever hit the ball in his life," Donald said.
I can't find a solution as to why we are not responding. I cannot fault the squad that we have got this year. Is it the failures of the last two years that is playing on everyone's minds or the losing streak that we are on at the moment? Is it affecting everybody?Allan Donald
After their confident victory against Chennai Super Kings, Warriors let the following two matches slip out of their hands against Sunrisers Hyderabad at home and then in Mohali against Kings XI Punjab. The erratic form has left even Donald confused.
"I can't find a solution as to why we are not responding," he said. "I cannot fault the squad that we have got this year. Is it the failures of the last two years that is playing on everyone's minds or the losing streak that we are on at the moment? Is it affecting everybody?"
The failure of marquee players has made matters worse for Donald. Yuvraj Singh, Ross Taylor, Angelo Matthews and Robin Uthappa have not played any innings of impact. Acting captain Aaron Finch has been the only batsman to score a half-century, striking up three fifties in six games.
"The whole team has been hot and cold," Donald said, expressing his frustration. "If you look at Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, they win the RCB games. The same goes for teams like Super Kings."
The absence of a stable captain at Warriors has been a point of fierce debate. The first-choice captains - Mathews and Ross Taylor - have been battling for form, forcing the team management to appoint Finch, who has led in the Big Bash, as a stand-in leader. "We never had a captain in three years leading us solidly," Donald said.
In their debut season in 2011, Warriors finished eighth out of nine teams in the season. Last year, they slid to the last position. This season they are ahead of last-placed Daredevils. According to Donald, there is no place to hide for Warriors. "We can't fault our preparations or our planning and strategies, we have been on the money," he said. "We just haven't been unable to put it together on the field. There are no excuses, there are no explanations and we have got to turn it around."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo