West Indies openers have hit only two hundreds in ODIs since the 2015 World Cup. Both have come off the bat of Evin Lewis — a marauding 148 against the Sri Lankans last year and now a mesmerising 176 against England at The Oval. It is no wonder that his mentor is the indomitable Chris Gayle. “I hit a lot of sixes, big sixes like him,” Lewis had said once.
He sure hits many sixes. In T20 Internationals, Lewis has 40 sixes and just 26 fours. That is a huge difference in number of sixes and fours for someone who has played more than 10 T20Is. But like Gayle, Lewis can show another dimension to his game and that came to the fore at The Oval on Wednesday with West Indies struggling at 33/3.
Gayle, Shai Hope and Marlon Samuels were back in the hut by the seventh over and West Indies seemed to be heading towards another embarrassing defeat. Chris Woakes was peppering Lewis with short balls, something which had been his nemesis right through the series. Not this time, though.
Lewis took his time to settle in at the wicket but kept pace with a decent scoring rate, putting away the odd poor ball to the fence, relying more on timing and precision rather than the brute force he is known to possess. He reached his half-century, aided by Jason Mohammed at the other end, off 52 balls.
Unlike the modern-day T20 players, Lewis doesn't throw his wicket away after a landmark. He has this knack of making big hundreds. His four T20I 50+ scores are 100, 91, 125* and 51. When he settles in, Lewis makes it count. Despite being the marauding six-hitting machine that he is, the opener has this penchant for making big hundreds.
Against India in his 3rd T20I, Lewis had smoked a special hundred which included five sixes in an over off Stuart Binny. That is what Lewis does time and again. While he is in the Chris Gayle mould in every way, Lewis knows exactly when to up the ante and who to target as well.
In the inaugural Bangladesh Premier League, he was the only batsman to score a hundred, smashing 101 off 65 balls for Barisal Bulls. Way back in 2013, he topped the run charts for Trinidad and Tobago franchise in the Champions League. Lewis was always destined for big things. His first-class, List A and T20 hundreds came after Trinidad and Tobago had cancelled his contract for reasons known only to them.
On Wednesday at The Oval, Lewis was determined to make his half-century count. In his last 19 innings in ODIs, Lewis had crossed the half-century mark just once before, against Sri Lanka in Bulawayo last year when he made 148. This time around as well, the landmark spurred him on. He lost Mohammed on the way, but found able support from his captain Jason Holder, who pushed himself up to No 6.
Lewis thrashed the England spinners to the fence. Anything marginally short was thumped with disdain through the square boundaries. He has this little trigger movement at the start, reminiscent of Brian Lara, yet when he smashes the ball it has the feel of a young Gayle, who had thrashed an Indian attack comprising of Javagal Srinath, Ashish Nehra and Harbhajan Singh at Ahmedabad to score a spectacular 140 in 2002.
He soon reached the coveted three-figure mark off 94 balls, with zero sixes to his name, something which underlined his maturity, composure and controlled aggression. England had tested him with short balls throughout the innings but he was up for it this time around. CricProf states that Lewis’ strike-rate on the back foot until Wednesday was 76.23. But yesterday, until immediately after his hundred, he hit them at 124.48. Even his dot ball percentage in the series in the middle-overs is lower than that of all other West Indian batsmen while his boundary percentage is second only to his tutor, Gayle.
There was no stopping Lewis after his hundred. He started taking the short balls on without trying to ground the shots. The first, a high bouncer from Liam Plunkett, hit the top edge of his bat but soared over Adil Rashid at deep fine-leg for a maximum. Top-edged sixes over square leg are Gayle's birthright. But Lewis was in no mood to restrain himself now. The very next ball he plonked his front foot forward and hit Plunkett through the line, over his head, for a huge six.
When Rashid landed one on his pads, Lewis took him on over mid-wicket for his third six and followed it up with a deft dab through third man for four. Jason Holder, taking cue from Lewis, smashed Moeen Ali for two sixes in the next over. Now the rampant Windies mode was on and Lewis was in his T20 zone, where sixes take utmost importance.
When Woakes returned to pester him with a short ball, Lewis ensured that it would be his last by nailing a pull over the mid-wicket fence. Ali was then taken apart in the next over with two fours and two sixes as he raced to a career-best ODI score. His third fifty had come in just 26 balls.
Lewis and Holder soon notched up the highest fifth-wicket stand for West Indies in ODI cricket. Lewis was now looking good to be the second West Indian batsman to score a double hundred in ODI cricket, following in the footsteps of Gayle. But unfortunately for him, on 176, he inside edged a Jake Ball yorker onto his ankle and could not get up from the pitch. There was complete pandemonium as Lewis was stretchered off The Oval to a standing ovation from the crowd that had witnessed an absolute blitzkrieg. His 176 had come from 130 balls, adorned by 17 cracking fours and seven monstrous sixes, all of which had come after his century.
West Indies went on to lose the game despite posting 356 on the board, their first 350+ total since the 2015 World Cup when Gayle's double hundred gave them 372 against Zimbabwe at Canberra. Lewis will rue the fact that he missed out on a deserved double ton. He couldn’t even come out to collect his Man of the Match award as scans revealed he had suffered a hairline fracture. However, given his tenacity and resolve at The Oval, there are many more such knocks to come from Lewis. Gayle's understudy is another dazzler, cloned out of the 38-year-old predator. Now the Windies have, not one, but two of a kind, at the top of the order.