Invariably, like it always pops up before a West Indies game, there was a question about Chris Gayle at the pre-match media briefing. West Indies skipper Darren Sammy was asked about Gayle’s mind-set ahead of the match against India on Sunday. Sammy is a man with a sense of humour and a ready smile.
He came up with this line. “I am not Jesus Christ. I don’t know what’s going on in his mind but I know he is really pumped up to play here. Whenever he is playing for the West Indies he is very pumped up,” Sammy said.
Gayle’s impact in Twenty20 is not limited to when he plays for his country. Rather, he has made a name for himself while playing for leagues around the world, especially for Bangalore in the IPL. Gayle sits on top of the list of six hitters in the IPL. He has hit 180 of them.
The next best on the list is Suresh Raina with 115. His ability to find boundaries means he has to do very little running during a Twenty20 innings. He has scored the most runs in boundaries in a Twenty20 innings. In his unbeaten 175 against the Pune Warriors, 154 runs came through boundaries. His teammates have a similar approach when batting.
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Against most teams the Indian batting line-up would have a clear advantage. But against the West Indies they will be up against a side that can outdo them when it comes to hitting sixes. Gayle, Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith and Darren Sammy can all clear the ropes at will. When they pull it off in unison, it can be a treat to watch for the spectators and a nightmare for the fielding side. Yet, there is a flipside to this attacking mindset and gameplan — it makes the West Indies batting one dimensional.
Raina’s (s)low blow
Suresh Raina is confident that the Indians can counter the threat from the West Indies batsmen if the spinners can cramp them for room and force them to change their natural style of play. Ravichandran Ashwin, Amit Mishra and Ravindra Jadeja kept the pressure on the Pakistan batsmen by not giving them any poor balls and bowling to their field. The sharp fielding in the circle denied them easy singles. In an attempt to increase the run rate, rash shots were played by batsmen who know how to build an innings without throwing wickets away. The Indians plan to use a similar ploy against the West Indies at a venue where the wicket has been on the slower side during night games.
“Spinners will be key. Especially the manner in which they bowled against Pakistan, which plays spin really well. West Indies will be a totally different team as they have a lot of players who can hit sixes but they don’t have an idea about how to rotate the strike against spinners,” Raina said.
This theory has some truth to it. As recently as February, the West Indies struggled to play their free-flowing game against an Ireland attack that didn’t allow them to free their arms. West Indies made just 116 in that game batting first. For a side that has some of the biggest hitters in the game, there were just four sixes in that innings.
In a warm-up game of the World T20, Sri Lanka’s left-arm spinner Rangana Herath was successful in forcing Gayle into a false shot after bowling three dots ball in a row to him. The fourth ball was a flighted one. Gayle mistimed the shot and ended up being caught at long-on.
Sammy, though, didn’t read too much into that result or Raina’s assessment of his batsmen’s inability to rotate the strike. “We don’t care much about what Raina thinks. If he thinks we are only six-hitters then stop us from hitting sixes,” Sammy said. “We have at least 4, 5, 6 potential match winners in our side. Spin will play an important part in this tournament and the team which can handle spin better will come out victorious.”
Talking about spin, the West Indies’ Sunil Narine is currently the No.1 ranked spinner in the world, in T20 cricket. Leg-spinner Samuel Badree opens the attack and is effective in this format. The Indian spinners, after playing a big role in restricting Pakistan to a below par score, will be hoping for a similar performance for the second successive game.