KINGSTON – West Indies opener Chris Gayle shrugged off recent average form to score his 21st ODI century (109) – his first against Sri Lanka – as West Indies brushed aside the visitors by six wickets at Sabina Park today and earned a bonus point in the first match of the tri-series that also includes India.
Sri Lanka didn’t have a strong total to defend after their batsmen were felled for 208 by the spin of Sunil Narine. Angelo Mathews (55 not out) kept his main bowlers on throughout to try and ensnare the big fish, but Gayle kept blocking, blocking, and then powering it over the ropes with metronomic precision. The big wicket did come, when Gayle finally top-edged a sweep that was intended for the stands, but by then, the match was all but over.
It was a typically “measured” Gayle innings, following its own rhythm, irrespective of the conditions, the pitch, the attack, and the field. He followed his own modus operandi – dead-bats to hittable deliveries, axe-swings against good ones – giving not even an inkling of a chance to the fielding side.
Defending a middling total, Sri Lanka knew Gayle was one hurdle they had to get past quickly, but it wasn’t to be. Mathews opened with Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara as expected, but introduced Ajantha Mendis in the fifth over to see if Mendis could do what Narine had done in the first innings. Mathews persisted with fielders in catching positions, however, Gayle was in no hurry. Whenever it seemed a hit was needed, he had one.
But despite Gayle hitting three sixes and four fours in the first 10 overs, West Indies hadn’t run away. Johnson Charles (29) was doing his best to keep Sri Lanka interested with a laboured stay. There couldn’t have been a starker contrast. Charles struggled to read Mendis’ spin and the quicks’ swing, his misery prolonged by first, a dropped catch by Mathews, and then, by the umpire who let him get away against two good lbw appeals. He finally hit his first boundary – a six – off his 45th ball, but from West Indies’ perspective, he helped put up 115 for the opening stand.
Sri Lanka’s openers had started positively after being put in but their lower middle order failed yet again to shore up a faltering innings after the dismissals of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, who fell to the menacing spin of Narine, and, but for a fighting half-century by Angelo Mathews, they could have finished with much less than the eventual score.
Jayawardene, opening the innings for only the 27th time in his career, scored an effortless half-century (52) after Sri Lanka were asked to bat, but the innings lost steam after Narine removed both Jayawardene and Sangakkara in quick succession and later celebrated with another two wickets towards the end of the innings.
The innings was, however, not about Jayawardene’s half-century, nor Narine’s four for 40, but about how Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne – the much talked-about, but yet to fire, young brigade – coped with the situation. Mathews, dropped on 7, decided thereafter to curtail his natural strokemaking but this was a chance for Chandimal and Thirimanne to send a message to their detractors. Instead, both allowed the pressure to build and then fell to soft dismissals, reducing Sri Lanka’s innings to a crawl.
Only 15 runs came in the seven overs after the 28th and Sri Lanka, by the time they were forced to take their Powerplay, were left with no batting firepower to take advantage. Powerplay brought further damage – Ravi Rampaul picking up two more wickets after accounting for Thirimanne earlier – and Sri Lanka were left trying to use up the full quota of overs rather than going for runs.
But that shouldn’t take away anything from the way West Indies came back into the match. Dwayne Bravo had elected to field hoping his fast bowlers would exploit the early moisture in the pitch, but Sri Lanka had made smooth progress 63 and it was Bravo who provided the first strike, getting Tharanga to edge one to the keeper. There was no looking back once Narine, who now has 33 wickets from 14 matches at home, was introduced. Gayle then provided the ideal finishing touches. (cricinfo)