While Chris Gayle hogged all the limelight in Tuesday’s match 15 at Canberra between West Indies and Zimbabwe, the Africans can still derive some solace. Trying to chase an impossible 373 in 50 overs, they ended up with 289/10 in 44.3 overs after a rain-delay reduced the target to 363 in 48. They fell short by 73 runs but they scored at a brisk pace of 6.49 runs per over to expose the inadequacies of West Indies bowling. West Indies have only two batsmen and their batting is prone to collapse if either of Chris Gayle or Marlon Samuels fails. Despite his great World Cup achievement yesterday, Gayle is not reliable. He has no footwork, he doesn’t want to run for ones or twos and most of his shots are lofted. It has been after 19 ODIs since Gayle got the three-figure score. But the powerfully shouldered Gayle clicks only once in a while. It a matter of conjecture now; as to what would have happened if Gayle had been taken early. During West Indies’ South Africa tour recently, the Caribbean team won only when Gayle scored. Ireland got lucky the other day but the Zimbabwean couldn’t evade the sudden spurt of Gayle-onslaught. That was the only difference between victory and defeat in yesterday’s match. Zimbabwe got unlucky but they need not be disappointed.
The game began with West Indies winning the toss and electing to bat. They lost Dwayne Smith off the innings’ second ball, when Tinashe Panyangara had an in-swinger sneaking through Smith’s gate as he played outside the line of a ball speeding from off-side. While Zimbabwe and their supporters celebrated wildly for such a great start for their team, they had no inkling of the shape of things to follow. Later, Marlon Samuels and Gayle played sedately. It took them three overs to reach 10 as circumspection killed scoring. Gayle had taken 6 balls for his two singles. He could have added more but he refused to run. There was no footwork in his batting and he got his first boundary only in the fourth over through a risky lofted chip over mid-on with a fielder nearby. West Indies reached 43/1 after 10 overs with Gayle on 24 off 26 and nothing looked menacing at this stage. Then in the 11th over, Gayle hit his first six of the innings. The second came in the 18th over. But Gayle didn’t inspire confidence just yet. The 100 of the innings came in 24th over with Gayle batting on 61 off 67.
Then things began to change. Gayle found deliveries to his liking and smashed two back-to-back sixes in 26th over. After 30 overs, the score reached 149/1 with Gayle not out on 91 off 86 balls. No blitzkrieg looked in sight even after 35 overs and the scoring rate didn’t touch 5 at 165/1. In batting power-play, 36th over produced 10 runs and Gayle reached his century with another six. Though West Indies crossed 200 in 39th over, no one could have guessed the color of their batting in the remaining overs. In each of the next three overs, Gayle hit sixes and with Samuels also contributing from the other side, the score reached 258/1 in 43 overs. In the 44th, Gayle scored 2 fours and 2 sixes and followed them with 3 more sixes in the 45th. Score was now moving too briskly as Zimbabwean fielding fell apart. In 46th over, Gayle created history as he blasted Chatara to one six and 2 fours to reach World Cup’s first ever double century. In the last few overs, Gayle allowed Samuels to also complete his century. At his personal score of 215, Gayle fell off the last ball of the innings as West Indies ended with 372/2. In the process, Gayle and Samuels also created the 372-run partnership record that was highest in ODI history for any wicket
Chasing 373 for victory was too much for Zimbabwe as their first wicket fell in the second over. In the third, rain halted play for a while and when play resumed, the revised target was 363 from 48 overs. Zimbabwe lost another wicket, when Hamilton Masakadza fell LBW to Jerome Taylor. Zimbabwe now required 337 from 43 overs. With intent to stepping up scoring, Sikandar Raza played a lofted shot and lost his wicket in the 8th over. This brought Brendan Taylor and Sean Williams together. They attempted a revival with an 80-run stand between them. After Taylor departed, Williams continued with Craig Ervine for another 51-run fifth-wicket. When Williams got out, Zimbabwe needed 186 from 20.1 overs but with too many wickets lost, it was a big deal. Then Ervine also departed in the 34th over and another wicket fell in the 36th. At 240/7 after 36 overs, another 123 were required from next 12 overs. Though Chigumbura and Chatara made small contributions, Zimbabwe were bowled out for 289 in the 45th over.
They lost the match by 73 runs but Zimbabwe reached in the vicinity of 300 in their chase. It could have been vastly different if Gayle had been taken out early. But ifs and buts have no place in real life.