Best Twenty20 Batting Performance
88 v Australia
World Twenty20, The Oval
Brett Lee had never before or since been treated with the sort of disdain that Chris Gayle reserved for him at The Oval on June 6, 2009, and it's doubtful whether the grand old ground had ever seen hitting quite like it either.
In the space of 50 balls, Gayle slammed 88 runs of the most coolly destructive calibre, including six enormous sixes, one of which threatened the windows of the adjoining Archbishop Tennyson school, another of which landed on the roof of the Bedser Stand and was adjudged by one seasoned onlooker as the biggest strike he had witnessed since Clyde Walcott was in his prime.
Gayle's efforts eviscerated an Australian attack in which Lee returned figures of 1 for 56 in four overs, the most expensive in his country's Twenty20 history. Lee's third over, the fifth of the innings, was clobbered for 27, as West Indies hurtled to 83 for 0 in their six-over Powerplay.
A testing target of 171 had been broken in a trice, and so too had Australia's challenge in the World Twenty20. Having been placed in the so-called Group of Death, the trauma that Gayle caused left them in no fit state to take on the eventual finalists, Sri Lanka, in their second and final match at Trent Bridge two days later. Their campaign was over before it had begun, leaving them the best part of a fortnight to lick their wounds in Leicester and regroup ahead of the Ashes.
But more remarkable even than Gayle's performance was its context. Until the start of the tournament, the West Indies tour of England had been a shambles, and Gayle - as captain - had wilfully contributed to an atmosphere of unrestrained apathy. None of his team had even wanted to be in the country. The two-Test and three-ODI series that took place in May had been a late addition to their workload, following the cancellation of England's scheduled series against Zimbabwe, and Gayle had been plying his trade for Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL right up until the very eve of the first Test at Lord's. After a lethargic three-day defeat, his subsequent remarks about the future of Test cricket heaped further opprobrium onto his habitually shrugged shoulders.
But the manner in which he turned on the style at precisely the moment of his choosing beggared belief. As soon as May ticked over into June, Gayle's mind reunited with his body, and he blinked belligerently back into life. June 6 - D-Day no less - was the moment he had intended to turn up for duty, and he did with an intent that left even his most strident critics grinning at the audacity of his actions.
Thirteen days later, having sustained his team's momentum all the way to the semi-finals, Gayle signed off from the tournament with another extraordinary performance at The Oval, carrying his bat for 63 not out from 50 balls, in an innings in which no other batsman reached double figures. But just as his spectacular century had lit up the opening match of the 2007 World Twenty20 at Johannesburg, nothing could match the show-stopping violence of his tournament trendsetter.