Chris Gayle lit up the Sawai Mansingh Stadium with a quite spectacular display of power-hitting as West Indies stormed into their second successive Champions Trophy final. Gayle's run-a-ball unbeaten 133 - and his 154-run opening wicket stand with Shivnarine Chanderpaul - turned what was supposed to be a close game into an absolute no-contest, as West Indies chased down 259 with six wickets in hand and 36 balls to spare to earn the right to challenge Australia for the title on Sunday.
No-one would have thought the match would have been such one-way traffic after South Africa puffed their way to 258 for 8 on the back of a controlled innings of 77 from Herschelle Gibbs. With the ball not coming on to the bat in the afternoon, it was assumed that West Indies would have to battle hard to get to the target. It took just two balls to alter that assumption significantly.
Shaun Pollock, the epitome of accuracy, started with a wide, then was spanked down the ground off the next two deliveries - once off either foot - for fours. That set a trend which continued through the entire innings, as Gayle decided to make this match his own. Pollock's gentle pace was just perfect, as Gayle creamed him down the ground and took a giant stride forward and deposited a huge six over long-on. Pollock's five overs went for 34 - 24 off them courtesy Gayle from 18 balls - and Pollock wasn't needed again.
It wasn't as if the other bowlers fared much better, though, as Gayle employed the simple policy of judging the length early, and then spanking it either off the front or back foot. When Jacques Kallis pitched it slightly short he was carved over midwicket for six, and when he overcompensated, was punched down the ground. The punch - Gayle's signature stroke - came to the fore on quite a few occasions.
There were streaks of the unorthodox too, most memorably when he went down on one knee to a pitched up delivery outside off from Andre Nel, and cross-batted it to the long-on fence. The only occasion when circumspection crept in - and, shock, horror, even the sharp single was attempted - was when he reached 99. He played three dot balls, then scampered a single to mid-off to get to his 15th ODI hundred. The helmet came off, he pumped his fists, then broke into a broad smile even as the dressing-room, and the entire Sawai Mansingh Stadium, gave him a standing ovation.
If Gayle's was the main show, then Chanderpaul's was a classy support act. He started slowly, then began a magnificent show of his own, creaming cover-drives and quite audaciously moving across his stumps to hoick Nel over fine leg for six. In fact, after facing 36 deliveries, Chanderpaul had 41 to his name against Gayle's 39, before Chanderpaul eased up. An attack of cramps forced Chanderpaul to opt for a runner before finally retiring, but that hardly helped the South Africans, as Ramnaresh Sarwan immediately turned it on. His dismissal sparked off a mini collapse as three more wickets - including that of Lara - fell cheaply, but Gayle was still around to ensure that West Indies wouldn't throw this one away like they've done so often in the past.
To be fair to the South Africans, the pitch turned out to be an absolute belter in the evening. The ball came on to the bat, it neither seamed nor spun, and batsmen could hit through the line without fear.
Batting wasn't quite so easy in the afternoon, which, in retrospect, made Smith's decision at the toss a rather baffling one. Against a spirited and accurate West Indian attack, the South African top order struggled to wrest the initiative. Smith himself fell to an inspired Jerome Taylor, Kallis was frustrated enough to slog to third man, and Loots Bosman, the replacement for Boeta Dippenaar, played a fine hand without ever threatening to take the attack apart.
South Africa's best phase was when Gibbs - who dropped down to No.4 after two ducks in this tournament - was joined at the crease by AB de Villiers, who further enhanced his reputation as a high-class player of slow bowling. Together they added 92 in just 18 overs to put the innings back on track. Both used their feet well, ran hard, and ensured there weren't too many dot balls. An inspired piece of fielding by Brian Lara finally ended the partnership in the 41st over and West Indies immediately closed in with more wickets towards the end. Mark Boucher managed a couple of lusty blows, while Gibbs struck one powerful straight six to lift South Africa past 250. At the break Smith would have been reasonably happy with the total, but that was before the Gayle force hit them.
Graeme Smith b Taylor 19 (27 for 1)
Beaten by one which nipped back and bowled off the pads
Jacques Kallis c Sarwan b Bravo 16 (65 for 2)
Top-edged a heave to third man
Loots Bosman c Gayle b Samuels 39 (96 for 3)
Flicked too early, leading edge to cover
AB de Villiers run out (Lara) 46 (188 for 4)
Direct hit from short mid-on
Justin Kemp b Bradshaw 3 (195 for 5)
Played down the wrong line and inside-edged on to his stumps
Mark Boucher c Sarwan b Samuels 16 (219 for 6)
Good catch running backwards from extra cover to snaffle a mistimed slog
Shaun Pollock b Taylor 4 (227 for 7)
Made room and missed a straight ball
Herschelle Gibbs c Lara b Bravo 77 (256 for 8)
Mistimed one to short midwicket
Ramnaresh Sarwan lbw b Ntini 27 (196 for 1)
Trapped in front by a full delivery angling towards the pads
Dwayne Bravo run out (Smith) 15 (226 for 2)
Beaten by the turn, ball went off the pad to slip, who threw down the stumps
Brian Lara c & b Smith 9 (243 for 3)
Loose drive back to the bowler
Runako Morton c de Villiers b Peterson 0 (244 for 4)
Mistimed a slog to short midwicket
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo