‘Gayle storm’ blow away SL


Chris Gayle had failed to leave a mark in cold and wet England, but he probably knows there is only one thing cool in the warmer climes of Jamaica – he himself. And no one at SabinaPark would disagree. After a lean patch in the Champions Trophy where his highest score was 39, Gayle scored his 21st ODI century – his first against Sri Lanka – as West Indies brushed the visitors aside by six wickets and earned a bonus point in the first match of the tri-series.

Sri Lanka didn’t have a strong total to defend after their batsmen were felled by the spin of Sunil Narine, who picked up four wickets. Angelo Mathews kept his main bowlers on throughout to try and ensnare the big fish, but Gayle kept blocking, blocking, and then powering it over the ropes with metronomic precision.

It was a typically ‘measured’ Gayle innings, following its own rhythm, irrespective of the conditions, the pitch, the attack, and the field. He followed his own modus operandi – dead-bats to hittable deliveries, axe-swings against good ones – giving not even an inkling of a chance to the fielding side and hitting at least a six off each of the five bowlers he faced.

Defending a middling total, Sri Lanka knew Gayle was one hurdle they had to get past quickly, but it wasn’t to be. Mathews opened with Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara as expected, but introduced Ajantha Mendis in the fifth over to see if Mendis could do what Narine had done in the first innings. Mathews persisted with fielders in catching positions, however, Gayle was in no hurry. Whenever it seemed a hit was needed, he had one.

But despite Gayle hitting three sixes and four fours in the first 10 overs, West Indies hadn’t run away. Johnson Charles was doing his best to keep Sri Lanka interested with a laboured stay. There couldn’t have been a starker contrast. Charles struggled to read Mendis’ spin and the quicks’ swing, his misery prolonged by first, a dropped catch by Mathews, and then, by the umpire who let him get away against two good lbw appeals. He finally hit his first boundary – a six – off his 45th ball, but from West Indies’ perspective, he helped put up 115 for the opening stand.

Darren Bravo joined Gayle and the two put up a quick 66-run stand to bring West Indies within touching distance of the target. The big wicket did come, when Gayle finally top-edged a sweep that was intended for the stands. There was a minor flutter as Sri Lanka picked two more wickets in the next three overs, but it was a case of too little too late.

Sri Lanka’s openers had also laid a solid foundation with a half-century stand after being put in, but their lower middle order failed yet again to shore up a faltering innings after Narine dismissed both Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. But for a fighting half-century by Mathews, they could have finished with much less than the eventual score.

Jayawardene, opening for only the 26th time in 370 ODI innings, scored an effortless half-century at run-a-ball, finding the boundary with silken drives and precise cuts. He greeted Narine with a reverse-swept boundary to bring up his fifty, but was out two balls later inside-edging a sharply-turning delivery to his pads, the ball lobbing up for the wicketkeeper for a simple chance. Sangakkara was dismissed soon after, tamely pushing a flighted delivery to cover.

The situation was tailor-made for the much talked-about, but yet to fire, young brigade – Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne – to send a message to their detractors. But Mathews, dropped on 7, decided thereafter to curtail his strokemaking while Chandimal and Thirimanne allowed the pressure to build and fell to soft dismissals, reducing the innings to a crawl.

Only 15 runs came in the seven overs after the 28th and by the time they were forced to take the batting Powerplay, Sri Lanka were left with little firepower to take advantage. The Powerplay brought further damage. Ravi Rampaul picked up two quick wickets and Sri Lanka were left trying to use up the full quota of overs rather than going for runs.

That shouldn’t take away anything from the way West Indies came back. Dwayne Bravo had elected to field hoping his fast bowlers would exploit the early moisture in the pitch, but it was Bravo who provided the first strike, getting Upul Tharanga to edge to the keeper. There was no looking back once Narine, who now has 33 wickets from 14 matches at home, was introduced. Gayle then provided the ideal finishing touches.