How much did the dubious decision to give Chris Gayle out cost West Indies? The extended drama over Gayle's lbw is bound to draw another round of fresh debate over the efficacy of the DRS. Gayle and West Indies might even feel deprived of a bigger score and better day at work instead of swallowing a series defeat in the end. At the same time there is another valid question: did West Indies get consumed by the Gayle decision and failed to respond as England did at various moments in the match each time they were under the cosh?
Let's start first with the Gayle episode. Gayle had pushed at delivery from Graeme Swann, which was bowled from wide of the crease from round the wicket and had drifted in nicely before hitting his front pad in line with the stumps. On first look it seemed out, but on second look, it seemed he had managed to get an inside edge just as the ball tried to squeeze between bat and pad. Tony Hill, the New Zealand umpire, was initially uncertain but eventually satisfied Swann's loud and persistent appeal. Gayle did not even consult his batting partner before asking for a referral.
A hush immediately enveloped at the Oval as Kumar Dharmasena, the Sri Lankan third umpire, deliberated on the decision. As the minutes ticked, the intrigue only deepened. Hot Spot displayed two spots but the replays remained inconclusive about whether the ball hit pad first or bat. Some television pundits said that the time taken to arrive at a decision meant Gayle should have been given the benefit of doubt, but in principle the DRS offers the benefit of doubt to the original decision. Eventually what Dharmasena reported to Hill was not strong enough for Hill to change his mind.
"The chasm between Gayle and virtually the rest of West Indies batsmen was exposed once again as the rest of the batsman, barring Bravo, disappointed."
Gayle was surprised as Hill raised his finger for a second time. He raised both his hands unable to understand how he was ruled out. After delaying his exit, he finally started walking back, shaking his head in disapproval. He knew he had positioned himself in a spot from where he could go big. He did raise his bat to acknowledge a standing ovation from a strong crowd. His first international innings on return from exile had lasted one hour.
In those 60 minutes, Gayle batted like the matinee idol he was hyped up to be. He played his initial overs attentively against the bounce and seam available early on. But England were equally aware about what was going to hit them between the eyes after this eerie silence. And it did not take long as Gayle launched a hat-trick of fours against Steve Finn first and then hit five sixes in eleven deliveries including the cloud-kissing missile against Tim Bresnan which sailed into the roof atop the Bedser Stand. That brought back memories of the World Twenty20 in 2009 at the same ground when Gayle had dispatched Brett Lee out of the ground more than once.
There was an edge to Gayle's batting. He had come into England on the back of finishing as the best batsman in the IPL. But his last ODI hundred for his country came on January 13, 2009. Gayle had said recently both him and WICB had fallen out at the very point when he was really hungry and close to make his dreams come true. Today he once again grew hopeful before the abrupt end.
Dwayne Bravo, who scored a resolute fifty, called Gayle's exit as a turning point, saying the decision immediately put West Indies on the back foot. "If the decision had gone a different way, it might have been a different ball game," he said.
Bravo did not stop at that and questioned the accuracy of the referral system. "What confuses us is they use the technology and yet still the decision was given," Bravo said. "It is ok, umpires do mistakes. That's accepted but not when they see it after and they realised they make a wrong decision and stand by it. It was a game-changing moment. Chris had been playing very well. Losing him at that time swing the momentum back England's way."
Unfortunately the chasm between Gayle and virtually the rest of West Indies batsmen was exposed once again today as the rest of the batsman, barring Bravo, disappointed once again. Marlon Samuels and Kieron Pollard were easily sucked into the short stuff bait while Dwayne Smith, who hit a fifty in the first ODI, proved why he has never been able to secure his spot in the batting order with an erroneous stroke selection. At the other end Bravo was left frustrated.
Bravo admitted he was not able to finish his innings the way he would liked and had to hold back a lot longer as he kept losing partners. If West Indies want to win series overseas, Bravo said they had a lot to learn from England. "They are winning key moments in the game. If we can plan better and think better we can turn out to be a better team," he said.
West Indies were supposed to be favourites to win the ODI series considering they were playing their best team. But like Pollard had said on the eve of the series, there is no point being the best on paper. Unlike England who responded smartly and bravely to bounce back, West Indies get distracted easily.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo