Man-of-the-Match Chris Gayle sloughed off the ‘ol’ handle, showed off the old Universe Boss form and lashed the Nicholas Pooran-led West Indies to an emphatic six-wicket win over Aaron Finch’s hapless Australians.
Without a T20I half-century for over five years, the almost 42-year-old former opener suddenly re-found his appetite for opposition bowling, crafting a boundary-filled 67 to see his side successfully chase down the tourists’ modest 141 for six with full five overs to spare.
Gayle strode to the wicket at the Daren Sammy Stadium in St Lucia in the first over of the West Indian chase, Andre Fletcher having picked out Mitchell Marsh at midwicket off Mitchell Starc’s third ball. When he departed at the end of over #12, victory was already in sight, barring an almighty collapse—of which, of course, all WI fans know their side to be quite capable.
But this was a team buoyed by an excellent performance in the first half of the evening on Monday. And lifted even higher by the apparent return to form of the team’s spiritual leader and sentimental centre.
Monday’s innings was Gayle’s 20th T20I innings since March 2016 when he scored a memorable 100 not out against England in Mumbai during the 2016 World Cup. His best score since then, one of only two above 25, was 40, also against England, in 2017.
So he returned to the pavilion like a triumphant general, getting a hug or a fist bump from almost every member of the WI unit, manifestly overjoyed that the selectors’ faith in the out-of-form fan favourite had seemingly been justified.
At the crease, he announced his changed mood with a 6-4-4-4 sequence in the second over of the innings, Josh Hazlewood’s first. And he added one four and six huge sixes, launching three of them high into the night sky off successive balls in Adam Zampa’s third over, which cost 22.
When his night’s was done, he had gone past 14,000 runs in T20s, including 1,000 sixes and another 1,000-plus fours.
And there would be no let-down out in the middle, Andre Russell (7 not out) and the stand-in skipper (32 off 27) rapidly finishing off what Gayle had started.
Bravo, who made an unbeaten 47 in Game 2, made no impression this time. But the WI sped from 109 for 3 at the fall of Gayle’s wicket to their 142 target in only three overs.
Earlier, Finch had won the toss for the third successive time and changing tack, chose to take first strike this time around. In the line-up were three new faces, batsmen Alex Carey and Ashton Turner and speedster Riley Meredith replacing Ashton Agar, Josh Philippe and Ben McDermott.
If the personnel changed, the performances did not. Not for the better. Once again, Finch’s Aussies rarely got out of first gear.
After taking ten off Sheldon Cottrell’s opening over, Matthew Wade (23 off 16), Finch’s opening partner, again failed to carry on. He offered a straightforward catch to Lendl Simmons at extra-cover off the last ball of over #5, the only one bowled by Obed McCoy. And Mitchell Marsh, scorer of half-centuries in the weekend’s games, only managed 12 before he too went at 58 for 2 in over #9.
As he has tended to do from Game 1, Pooran favoured spin in the immediate post-Powerplay period. Between overs #7 and #14, leg-spinner Hayden Walsh (2/18) and left-arm finger spinner Fabian Allen (1/26) completed seven overs, with Gayle’s now seemingly compulsory single over of right-arm off-spin spliced in between Walsh’s three.
Eventually, at 79 for 3, it was the leg-spinner who induced the error from Carey. And four balls later, Finch (30 off 31 balls) lifted a skier high down to the deep midwicket area. As Bravo lined up his usually safe hands under it, Allen kept running towards him, When the all-rounder spilled the chance—a rare occurrence—and the rebound, the alert, athletic left-hander dived low to complete a splendid catch.
Psychologically at least, it marked the beginning of the end for the Aussies.
Moises Henriques (33 off 28) and Turner (24 off 22) did strike a few lusty blows, taking 10 off Bravo’s second over of the innings and 16 off Russell’s third, which followed immediately. But their fruitful 59-run partnership scarcely managed to put the target beyond the reach of a rampant Gayle, focused, he revealed in the post-match interview, on the World Cup in India in October.
The hard-hitting left-hander dedicated his ‘half-century and milestone’ to his teammates, singling out Bravo and ‘especially Kieron Pollard’ who ‘let me know where I stand within this team and wanted me to go and express myself’.
“So I am very grateful,” he added immodestly, “for that pep talk because sometimes it doesn’t matter how great you are, you need a bit of a pep talk.”
Finch offered no kudos directly to Gayle. But he called the Windies ‘an experienced side’ and said his men were ‘playing against some great players’.
“We’ve been below our best,” he conceded, and “we have to do better.”
There have been ‘some positives’, he ended, ‘and hopefully we can keep improving’.
Stand-in skipper Pooran thanked full-time captain ‘Polly and all the senior players’ for their support and described his team as ‘a special group of guys’. He also called Gayle ‘the greatest T20 batsman to play the game’ and said that ‘the dressing room is going to be even more special after that innings’.
They ‘want to work on consistency’, he declared.
“Three games is nothing,” he put Finch on notice. “If we can win this 5-0, then we’ll take it.”
So, presumably, will the thousands of WI fans bitterly disappointed by the recent 3-2 loss to South Africa, who will feel an unwonted Australian T20 blackwash is consolation enough.
Australia: 141 for 6 (M Henriques 33, A Finch 30, H Walsh Jr 2/18, O McCoy 1/9, D Bravo 1/17)
West Indies: I42 for 4 (C Gayle 67, N Pooran 32*, R Meredith 3/48, M Starc 1/15)
Man-of-the-Match: Christopher Gayle
Result: WI won by 6 wkts.
West Indies lead the five-match series 3-0.