By: Reuters | | Wellington | March 19, 2015 3:33 pm
Strong southerly winds have buffeted New Zealand’s capital this week as the remnants of Cyclone Pam moved south-east of the country but cricket fans are questioning whether a Gayle will strike Wellington Regional Stadium on Saturday.
New Zealand face West Indies in the fourth and final World Cup quarter-final on Saturday, with the winner to face South Africa in the semi-final at Eden Park next Tuesday.
Chris Gayle’s side are the underdogs for the match after West Indies lurched into the knockout phase, while New Zealand were undefeated throughout the pool stage and have firmed as one of the tournament favourites.
Many pundits and fans, however, see the aggressive Gayle as the one West Indies player who could single-handedly guide his side into the semi-final if he manages to get going.
The 35-year-old left-handed opener is one of the most destructive batsmen in world cricket and earlier in the tournament became the first man to score a double century at the World Cup when he blasted 215 against Zimbabwe in Canberra.
He is now the only man to have scored a Test triple century, a ODI double century and a Twenty20 international century.
It also ended a slump the Jamaican had been in for almost two years, having scored just 274 runs at 14.42 in 19 ODI innings since his last century. He exceeded 50 just once in that time span and failed to pass 20 on 14 occasions.
Taking away the double century, however, Gayle has scored 64 runs in the tournament, indicating that he is still struggling for form, while he battles a back injury that forced him out of their final pool game and necessitated a pain-killing injection.
Few, however, can take away that innings and while New Zealand have said they could not afford to concentrate on just Gayle, it is clear he is the man who can do the most damage in the shortest amount of time.
“Obviously everyone knows what Chris Gayle can do and he is one of the biggest match winners in world cricket, so it’s important we put a little bit of focus on him,” New Zealand batsman Kane Williamson told reporters this week.
“When he plays well, he takes any team down in world cricket.”
The rest of West Indies batsmen have failed to truly set the tournament alight, with Marlon Samuels the only other player to have scored more than 200 runs, 133 of which came against Zimbabwe.
They have also looked vulnerable against the swinging ball and face arguably the best new ball pair in the tournament in Trent Boult (15 wickets) and Tim Southee (13 wickets) on Saturday.
West Indies all-rounder Darren Sammy, however, said if Gayle negates Boult and Southee’s initial attack the expected sell-out crowd of 30,000 could see some fireworks from the opening batsman and his team mates.
“I think they are the best new ball pair in the World Cup and they have been doing it consistently,” Sammy said.
“If you don’t allow them to take wickets then a different plan comes into play and the Andersons and other guys come in.
“We know within our group that if we do the basics well then were are unstoppable.”