It was not a match involving India, so the goodly crowd that landed at the Wankhede Stadium Wednesday on a balmy Mumbai evening was hoping for the West Indies to win against England in their ICC World T20 opener and Chris Gayle to provide the fireworks. And true to the entertainer that he is, the ‘World Boss’ didn’t disappoint. He sent the fans back home happy with the memory of a ‘Gayle storm’ which they are unlikely to forget in a hurry.
The last time West Indies landed in India, in 2014, they left the tour midway in a huff following a pay dispute with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). That left disappointment all around. Two years later, the script remains the same. The pay dispute again cast a doubt over their appearance in the World T20 in India and had it not been for an 11th-hour resolution between the WICB and the players, the world would have missed the spectacle of Gayle taking England to the cleaners.
The travesty of cricket in the Caribbean Islands is that it is always held hostage to off-field shenanigans. The West Indies are ranked second in T20Is but were never spoken of as favourites in the build-up to the event. They lost two of their crucial players in Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine before the start of the tournament.
Gayle, too, had gone through a tough time after being charged of sexism during a recent interview with a journalist. It’s obviously hard to concentrate on cricket with all these distractions. But the greatest quality of the West Indies is their ability to keep smiling amid adversity and block out the noise as soon as they enter the field. They play with the same verve and intensity no matter what the situation is and that is why it’s so easy to fall in love with them.
That intensity was on display against England at the Wankhede. The crowd did applaud Joe Root and Jos Buttler’s big hits but England wickets were cheered even more. West Indies’s acrobatic fielding efforts drew cheer while Dwayne Bravo was seen having fun while fielding at the Sunil Gavaskar Stand fence. In a game where Indian fans had no stake, the crowd was well behind the West Indies.
England had posted a competitive 182-6 on a good batting pitch. Before this match, West Indies had played just two T20Is in the last 12 months winning one and losing the other.
They might have been rusty but there was positivity among the fans and hopes of a Gayle special.
The excitement was palpable as the tall figure walked in to bat with a studied swagger. The normal script of a typical Gayle innings would be to go bang, bang right from the start and take the game away from the opposition at the blink of an eye. But of late, Gayle has changed his approach. He is circumspect, watchful even, at the start of the innings before he slowly steps on the gas to deliver the killer blow.
West Indies didn’t get off to a good start, losing Johnson Charles off just the second legitimate delivery of the innings. Samuels gave them some momentum with a four behind square leg three balls later. Gayle didn’t get the strike in the first over. However, the highlight of his innings was encapsulated in the first four balls of the innings he faced.
He left alone a good length outswinging delivery from Reece Toply, then defended another outswinger, this time close to the off stump to point. Topley erred in length off the next ball, overpitching it slightly and Gayle was quick to latch onto to it and loft it over wide mid-off for a boundary to kickstart his innings. The next one was even fuller and Gayle smashed it over mid-off for a flat six. That would prove to be the hallmark of his innings as he punished even the minute errors.
Total 10 runs off the first four balls was followed by two dots. However, the momentum was totally broken as Gayle didn’t get the strike for the next 21 balls. It was Samuels who took the center stage with a slew of boundaries to keep the runs flowing. In spite of all the beautiful shots he hit through the off side, the biggest applause was reserved for a gentle drive to mid-off against Chris Jordan which earned him just a single but more importantly — got Gayle the strike. It was probably the biggest cheer of the night so far.
West Indies lost Samuels in the next over as Morgan’s trick to introduce leg spinner Adil Rashid worked. Gayle batted sensibly all this while, keeping the scoreboard ticking with a one-off four every over. This wasn’t the belligerent Gayle but a sensible one.
He was patient and so was the crowd. The momentum finally shifted in the ninth over when Gayle clobbered Rashid over long on for two humongous sixes.
The first six brought about such a huge roar that some fans, busy having their dinner, left their food unfinished and rushed into the stands from the Wankhede Dining Room.
The next ball was hit even longer into the third tier beside the Grand Stand. The crowd came alive, the dhols on two opposite sides of the ground were in full flow, supercharging into the atmosphere.
West Indies chief selector Clive Lloyd watched on, so did Arjun — Sachin Tendulkar’s son — and Scotland captain Preston Mommsen from the Grand Stand.
“Jeetega bhai jeetega… (Who will win)” prompted the stadium announcer and the crowd answered: West Indies jeetega (West Indies will).
From then on, it was the Chris Gayle show.
The Jamican hammered 78 off the next 31 balls including three consecutive sixes off Moeen Ali to bring up his century. There were chants of ‘we want six, we want six’ every time Gayle got on strike in the 90s and there were ‘oohs and aahs’ as he could manage just singles from 96 to 99.
The crowd was totally involved and finally erupted when he squeezed one wide of short third man to bring up a magnificent hundred, off 48 balls — the fastest in World T20s. He spread his arms wide and then went down on his knees to celebrate at which point the crowd went berserk.
England bowlers did struggle a bit with the dew but Gayle was at a different level with his hitting as he took the game away hitting 11 sixes and five fours. The hallmark was his straight hitting. About 57 per cent of his runs came in the ‘V’ region. The crowd gave him a standing ovation as he walked off the field along with Andre Russell after the win.
The fans left the stadium satisfied. They had witnessed what they had come for — the Gayle storm. Mommsen described the innings as ‘incredible’. Windies coach Phil Simmons said: “He (Gayle) is up there with Sir Viv (Richards).” The fans, some in 20s, some older, lined up near the MCA Pavilion to have a glimpse of their hero when he boards the team bus.
Gayle later revealed what Sulieman Benn had told him before he went out to bat: “go out there and entertain me”. Well, he didn’t just entertain Benn, but thousands present at the Wankhede stadium and millions worldwide.
It was like a home away from home for the Windies as Wankhede crowd showered them with love. This support is guaranteed across India throughout the tournament. Until, of course, they face India!