CHRIS GAYLE loves to talk in third person. If left to him, AB de Villiers might never talk about himself, or at the most do so grudgingly. Gayle’s a showstopper and he thrives on being one. AB ends up stealing the show often unintentionally and doesn’t make too much of a deal about it. The Jamaican is a larger than life personality who turns heads everywhere he goes, mostly by just being Chris Gayle. AB though can easily be inconspicuous off the field, more so because he prefers it that way. What they have in common is their regular appearances in bowlers’ nightmares across the globe. (STATS || POINTS TABLE || FIXTURES)
Gayle hardly moves around much, and often smashes cricket balls out of sight from a mainly static position. De Villiers on the other hand, is like an energizer bunny on a high diet of caffeine in the crease. And If Gayle can have bowlers quaking in their boots; AB leaves them shaking their heads in befuddlement. If with Gayle, you are almost expecting every second delivery to fly over the ropes, AB has been the Christopher Columbus of batting, having explored and discovered new routes and areas to score boundaries in.
Of all the formats, T20, is where often people tune in more to see particular individuals in action rather than the match itself, especially one that you aren’t invested in personally anyway. And when South Africa and West Indies face off at Jamtha’s Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) stadium on Friday in a crucial league encounter, it’s pretty obvious who the spotlight will be on. More so because, it’s rarely that the two have gotten opportunities to bat together in the IPL for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). Either Gayle has finished the match off before AB can even come in to bat, or AB has produced a knock of awe-inspiring brilliance whenever Gayle has failed to block out any other event that transpired during the match. One thing’s for sure at least, that the Nagpur faithful who will show up at VCA will get to see both bat at some point during the match—especially since Gayle has recovered from his hamstring pull.
Having said that, both teams have enough superstars—of T20 proportions and otherwise—for this to be considered the most highly-billed clash in Group 1. But it’s safe to say that most of that eye-catching quality lies more in their respective batting departments.
And neither team refuses to admit that the strength in their batting outweighs their bowling ranks, this despite the presence of Dale Steyn in the South African squad.
When you look at the might that they possess in their lower order—the one facet of his team that skipper Darren Sammy admits to never stop smiling at—no total looks unachievable for the West Indies. And thanks to Gayle and Andre Fletcher, the lower-order hasn’t even been required so far. But whenever the West Indies have defended T20 totals successfully in the past, they have done so with Sunil Narine at the helm. With the Trinidadian mystery spinner back home, it will be quite a challenge for the men from the Caribbean to hold back a South African middle-order—bolstered with the likes of David Miller and even Chris Morris below him—that has shown in recent times the ability to chase down totals. Suleiman Benn and Samuel Badree did manage to temporarily overshadow the absence of Narine by spinning Sri Lanka to defeat in Bangalore earlier this week—both going at economy rates below 3.25.
Considering the way the Nagpur pitch has played so far, you would expect the West Indies to have been the happier team coming here. Following their previous visit here late last year, it’s likely that the South Africans would have looked forward to this segment of their T20 campaign with more dread than exuberance. And the pitch will play as much a starring role as Gayle and de Villiers.
On the face of it, the colour of the pitch at least looks greener than any that Nagpur has seen in years. Samandar Chouhan, who has in the past produced pitches in Madhya Pradesh that have witnessed batsmen scoring double-centuries in ODI cricket too has been called up to supervise the pitch preparation in the absence of Taposh Chatterjee, the Central Zone pitch committee representative.
While most of the grass looks to have been added more to keep the pitch firmer than anything, du Plessis is wary of committing to how it will play.
“I assume that the reason they’re changing it is to not be as dry, or not to spin as much as it possibly could have on that dry surface,” he said.
But the South African skipper did admit to being surprised at the extreme nature of pitches on offer during the World T20 so far.
“I’ve found that wickets in IPL have generally been quite good and consistent. Barring one or two games through the IPL, you generally get similar runs on the board right through all the venues. This World Cup, it’s been a little different. There’s been almost both extremes, where we’ve had massive spinning wickets and real flat deck,” said du Plessis.