An ODI double-hundred should feel monumental. This one felt inevitable. The fastest ODI double-hundred should feel exhilarating, like a rollercoaster ride. This felt like a quiet drive home from a suburban Tupperware party. That's what Chris Gayle
does. He makes a double ton seem inevitable after going 19 months without an ODI century.
This was the fifth double-century in ODIs, and it came exactly five years after Sachin Tendulkar first reached the landmark. Once a year is too frequent a rate for the milestone to be special any more, and since it was Gayle, it answered the question of when rather than if. Interviewed right after his dismissal off the final ball of the innings, Gayle himself said a lot of people had expected it from him. "A lot of fans," he said, "have tweeted about it since Rohit Sharma scored two double-hundreds."
Gayle finished on 215 from 147 balls. He hit 10 fours and sent 16 sixes flying over the straight boundary or into a group of fans dressed as a coven of witches beyond the midwicket boundary. At the other end, unnoticed, Marlon Samuels made his highest ODI score and played second fiddle in a partnership of 372, the highest for any wicket in ODIs.
It had drizzled all through the West Indies innings, but only got heavy enough for the players to go off the field in the third over of Zimbabwe's innings, by which time they had already lost Regis Chakabva. When play resumed 20 minutes later, the target had been revised to 363 from 48 overs. Despite losing two more wickets by the end of the eighth over, Zimbabwe made enough of a fist of the chase to make you wonder what might have happened had West Indies only made 320.
The revival began with an 80-run partnership between Brendan Taylor and Sean Williams, before Williams and Craig Ervine - who had revived Zimbabwe in their chase against UAE - upped the rate of scoring with a 51-run fifth-wicket stand off just 46 balls. When Williams holed out off a miscued a pull in the 28th over, Zimbabwe needed 186 from 20.1 overs. They had brought the equation down to a Twenty20 chase, just about, but had lost five wickets in doing so.
They just had too much left to do, and when Ervine, having used the stroke productively during his innings of 51, was bowled trying to sweep a darted Gayle offbreak, they were in danger of being bowled out. Gayle had struck four balls after coming on. In his next over, he had Stuart Matsikenyeri lbw, deceiving him for length. This was entirely his day.
Gayle's innings distilled his biggest strengths: his patience - he faced 59 dot balls, or just over 40% of the total balls he faced; only Rohit Sharma's 209 in Bangalore contained a bigger percentage of dots among the five ODI double tons - and his ability to maximise a fairly small range of shots. Not for him the ramps and the reverse-laps. Not even the cover drives and the square cuts. Until he drilled Chatara to the extra-cover boundary to go from 196 to 200, he had hit only one four and one six through the off side. Everything else was launched down the ground or clubbed or pulled over the leg side.
It helped him that two of Zimbabwe's spinners, Tafadzwa Kamungozi and Sean Ervine, turned the ball into him. They disappeared for 21 each in the 44th and 45th overs. West Indies went from 258 to 300 in that time, Gayle from 151 to 190, with two fours and five sixes in eight balls, the best of them an effortless pick-up shot off Kamungozi over backward square leg.
Gayle could have been out first ball. Tinashe Panyangara, who had already bowled Dwayne Smith for a duck, curled one into Gayle and bellowed in appeal for lbw. Steve Davis said not out. We don't know for sure, but he may have suspected an inside edge. Zimbabwe reviewed. There was no inside edge. But Hawkeye suggested the ball would have gone on to hit the upper half of the bails. Umpire's call.
West Indies could have been 1 for 2. Who knows what might have happened then? Instead, Gayle began the process of slow accumulation that often lays the base for his biggest innings. Panyangara and Tendai Chatara were landing the ball on a good length, generally bowling stump-to-stump on a slow pitch, and moving it around off the seam. Neither Gayle nor Samuels looked fluent. At the 10-over mark, West Indies were 43 for 1.
Gayle's first six came in the 11th over, over long-on off Williams, a warning that he could repeat the stroke whenever he saw one in his hitting zone. In the 17th, Samuels went for a cut and sliced Sikandar Raza straight towards Chatara at backward point. He dived forward, got both hands to the ball, and dropped it.
After 20 overs, West Indies were 96 for 1, and it wasn't until the 29th that their run-rate crept up to five an over. Gayle by then was going along at over a run a ball but Samuels was crawling along at half that strike rate, struggling for timing and hitting balls straight to fielders.
At the start of the 40th over, West Indies were 203 for 1 and Gayle was on 121. His innings could have ended there, had Panyangara not overstepped while sending down a ball that Gayle skied down long-on's throat. Off the free-hit next ball, as if to mock Zimbabwe's wretched luck, Gayle gave long-on more catching practice.
Zimbabwe's bowlers probably knew what was coming next. They had conceded 146 in the last 10 overs against South Africa. Here they conceded 152. Just as they had done in that game, they had begun well with the ball and bowled reasonably well in the middle overs without threatening to take wickets. At Hamilton, it had left the well set David Miller and JP Duminy at the crease after 40 overs. Now it was the turn of Gayle and Samuels.
After Gayle reached his double-hundred in the 46th over, it was Samuels' turn to align some of the spotlight on himself. At the start of the 48th over, he tucked Chatara away to the fine leg boundary to bring up his century. It had taken him 143 balls to get there, and at that point his strike rate was 69.93. Over the next 13 balls he faced he lifted that to 85.25. He clobbered three fours and a six off Panyangara in the 49th over, including a stunning, flat slap over extra cover, and clubbed Chatara for another six in the final over. Chatara lost control of the next two balls, slipping down successive waist-high full-tosses, and had to be taken off the attack. Hamilton Masakadza trudged on to bowl the last two balls, an appropriately absurd end to a bowling effort that had completely gone to pieces.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo