Performance of The Day: Chris Gayle
Gayle's spectacular return lit up The Oval and threatened pigeons on the roofs of the stands
Chris Gayle played his first ODI for 15 months for West Indies and lit up The Oval with a display of spectacular hitting, making 53 in 51 balls.
Gayle mixed caution against England’s quality bowlers with a brutal onslaught of hits. The caution was evident in the 32 dot balls he played out, most of which were dead-batted nonchalantly in front of his nose. But there were five sixes, too, all hit with extraordinary power and timing.
Gayle’s economy of movement was remarkable. He stayed perfectly still until the last possible moment when he pounced with the venom of a rattlesnake. All the time, he remained expressionless, even dour, behind his helmet.
Three of the sixes came in one over from Tim Bresnan, including a towering blow that sailed onto the roof of the stand. The words ‘huge’ has had its currency devalued by over-use but this stroke went so far that few batsmen could have played it in world cricket.
It was reminiscent of Gayle’s breath-taking hook shot off Brett Lee at The Oval in the 2009 Twenty20 World Cup. With the added momentum of Lee’s express pace, it cleared the scoreboard and landed in the gardens of Archbishop Tenison’s School, a distance of around 122 metres.
Gayle, in fact, has no parallel as a six-hitter in the modern game. In IPL 2012, his innings of 128* for Royal Challengers Bangalore against Delhi Daredevils contained 13 sixes and a mere seven fours. In total, he struck 59 sixes in the tournament, whilst making the highest number of runs. And there have been equally spectacular Gayle hundreds in Twenty20 leagues in Bangladesh, Australia and South Africa.
Gayle began calmly at The Oval, making two runs in his first 11 balls. He showed a great deal of respect for Anderson, in particular, and was given little to hit by Finn. But the slow start was a sign, too, that he has matured as a batsman. In the IPL, he will often play out a few dot balls to get the feel of the pitch before the inevitable onslaught.
The boundaries came in bursts. Finn was hit for three consecutive fours, a glance, an edge and a straight drive. Then Gayle really started to cook when – on his 25th ball - he hit the first of a run of five sixes in 11 balls when he pulled a rare Anderson long hop for six.
The three sixes off Bresnan came in the following over, the 10th of the innings. All three carried a hint of humiliation for the bowler. The first was drilled low and hard, the second involved a swagger down the wicket and an even more muscular straight drive. The third was the biggest of the lot, right onto the roof.
Had Bresnan been of a sensitive disposition, which admittedly is rare in fast bowlers from West Yorkshire, he might have had his confidence undermined by Gayle. But Bresnan’s dogged character meant he continued to land the ball on a good length, challenging Gayle to take risks. After the three sixes, he bowled seven more balls to Gayle and the batsman collected just three singles.
Meanwhile, Cook threw the ball to Swann ahead of Stuart Broad. This decision turned out to be a captaincy masterstroke. Swann tied Gayle down, then dismissed him lbw with a ball that went on with the arm from around the wicket.
It was a lovely bit of bowling and another left-handed victim for Swann, yet the decision left a sour taste. Umpire Tony Hill mulled it over for a long time before raising his finger, which suggested some doubt. The ball had clearly hit the edge of the bat, but Hill had to decide if it hit pad first. And he opted to go with the bowler.
Such marginal decisions reveal how the DRS is undermining the time-honoured principle that the “benefit of the doubt” goes to the batsman. Gayle reviewed it confidently, but after multiple viewings, which served only to muddy the waters, the third umpire was forced to stick with Hill’s on-field decision.
It was a great shame for the game. On such a good batting wicket, West Indies needed a hundred from Gayle to build the 300 score which might have challenged England.