The 2012 ICC World T20 has finally come alive. And it took Chris Gayle to do it, after a week of minnow bashing and empty stands. There are five grandstands at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, and on Saturday night, there were as many people at the ground to fill four-and-a-half of them. So much so, that Mexican Waves aplenty were going around, the first such instance in five days of competition.
Yes, they all came to watch Gayle bat and he didn’t disappoint. In fact Australia didn’t, when he was dropped him at five. But more on that later, for a show was put on! A 26-ball half century woke up quite a few dozing fans across the globe and not just in Lanka. Five fours came off his blade. Only one of them an edge, while the others were dismissive shots to mid-wicket and cover-point. The sixes weren’t far behind, four of them in his innings. Three sailed past long-on and one over square leg. No, none of the fielders had a shot at catching them. They were clean hits, all of them.
The coming of Gayle is significant for two things. One, this tournament was starting to descend into a farce and we are not just talking scheduling problems here. Earlier in the day, a seven-over match was played out at rainy Hambantota. It was a sell-out crowd of 34,000 that came to watch hosts Sri Lanka take on South Africa, the first big match of the tournament.
As much as Seven-Seven sounds a joke, you can’t disappoint that big a gathering when most of them travelled down from Colombo, 300 kilometres one-way. While that game did go on, you needed something more to retain interest, even an iota of it. Gayle’s blitz came at the right time to rescue this World T20 gathering.
Two, almost as an off-shoot, it heralds the strengthening of competition from here onwards. The lesser teams are more or less gone. Bangladesh were never minnows to start with, they just tend to play like that. They can do better and if they suddenly decide so against Pakistan in the last group stage, it will be a bonus. For, the real battle will be on Monday, when the West Indies take on Ireland. No other sport in the world is geared up more when a dead rubber suddenly becomes a live one. Yes, there is sadness in that fact for cricket is slowly getting robbed off its sheen. But that’s a topic for another day.
Right now we have much to thank Shane Watson for. If it were not for him, this tournament wouldn’t be staring at an exciting weekend stretched onto an otherwise strenuous Monday evening. On the fourth ball of the fourth over, Gayle swung his bat wildly at Mitchell Starc delivery that had quite some width. The ball looped up to third man where Watson came in, diving low and got his hands in position. Only for the ball to pop out and the crowd to go wild!
That was only round two of their battles, and it was on an even-keel at that point. In the first over bowled by Watson, Gayle had left two balls alone. He had ducked into a short one, or tried to, and the ball took off for four byes after hitting on the helmet. Think of that dropped catch as flood gates opening, for Gayle then went into overdrive, setting up momentum for Marlon Samuels. In turn the latter’s half century put that massive 192 target on board.
For Australia to win, either they needed David Warner to go crazy or Shane Watson to bat till the end. You cannot really rely on Warner for his hit-first-think-later approach means he will get out anytime. Watson though is a little more studious, in whatever magnitude this format allows. He will feel his way in and then start hitting out. The time period depends anywhere from three to six overs, also depending upon how well Warner is doing.
Up until the sixth over, Watson didn’t have a boundary against his name, despite Australia’s score reading 44 for one. Warner’s explosive start allowed him to get-in and a free hit opportunity off Sunil Narine allowed him to flex his muscles a bit. It was a slog sweep that went all the way, for he just exudes so much power. Despite it being clear that the Windies attack was causing no problems, he didn’t go into fourth gear. He stayed put, for the chase was hard and long. As it is Mike Hussey was going great guns.
Samuels came on to bowl the eighth over and Watson smacked the third ball for four. On the very next delivery, he slammed it over long-off. It seemed a mishit though that is a wild guess. The fifth ball was the turning point of the match. It was a short delivery that Watson pulled it straight to square leg where Dwayne Smith made a meal of the chance afforded. It went for six. He sent the ball in Smith’s direction again, on the sixth ball, almost teasing, this time finding the gap for four.
Seven balls later, with the score on 100 for one, the rain came. Australia were 17 ahead on D/L method, needing 83. At two wickets down, they needed 85 runs. Watson took another three singles, while Hussey scored another six runs, on account of that momentum. They took 19 runs against that dropped catch. It may be conjecture, but take these runs out and they would have been 81 for two, probably losing the match.
Score: Watson 1 - Gayle 0
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