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By R Vishal
Chris Gayle and Dwayne Smith walking to the crease to take strike. Now that is a sight which promised to send shivers down the spine of hapless bowlers before the ICC World T20 2014. However, the opening batsmen have fired only in fits-and-starts and haven’t lived up to their pre-tournament billing.
When you consider the reputation that precedes both these players in the shorter formats of the game and their ability to take the wind out of opposition teams’ sails in the matter of few overs, they have fired blanks so far. Hosts Bangladesh and their under-performing bowlers felt the full wrath of the duo, but against India and Pakistan in the group stages, they went defensive and let pressure seep through them.
In modern day Twenty20 (T20) cricket, it has become a common sight to see teams use their premium spinners or even a part-timer to start proceedings. Proven to be fruitful for the most part, it has the potential to backfire as well. Despite having an array of quality spinners in their ranks, MS Dhoni went against it and handed the new ball to Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami. Both the medium-pacers were tidy and gave nothing away, especially Bhuvaneshwar.
The West Indian openers soaked all of it in during the power-play overs and their negative approach cost them dear. Smith and Gayle played bizarre knocks by their standards and West Indies never truly found their calypso swagger and ended up losing quick wickets and subsequently, the match.
That abysmal display against India ought to have come up in team meetings and the openers returned with renewed gusto to cream the Bangladesh bowlers in their blistering opening partnership of 97. But normal service resumed against Australia in their thrilling chase. While Gayle set out to prove a point to James Faulkner’s taunts before the game, Smith looked tentative and consumed deliveries. West Indies eventually chased down the target thanks to skipper Darren Sammy’s virtuoso performance in the climax.
Against Pakistan, both players fired blanks and left West Indies tottering at 22 for two after four overs and yet again, Sammy and company fired the calypso boys to a formidable total. These enigmatic displays are not what the boundary-loving fans or West Indies envisaged and they certainly have lacked their panache that oozes when they are on song.
So where has it been going wrong? To a large degree, it is the inherent nature of these two players — a clash of styles if you will. It has always been a common logic for someone to go after the bowling and the other hold fort, Gayle and Smith are batsmen who like to hog strike, like to play an over or two all by themselves which may yield a couple of sixes.
The batsmen have adopted an ultra-defensive approach; especially against India and Pakistan when the bowlers got on top of them and against the Sri Lankan spinners; they might not play with the free spirit that has epitomised them and in the aforementioned two games looked to see out trouble in the early overs than go for the bog hits.
Rangana Herath’s astonishing display against New Zealand is sure to cause a worry or two and the West Indies players have to aim at getting the better of him. A clear case in point is their treatment of Saeed Ajmal in the last league game, where an aggressive approach, albeit by their middle-order batsmen paid rich dividends to hand a rare poor outing for the wily Pakistan off-spinner.
The openers need to adapt a more big-match approach and look to rotate the strike than chewing up deliveries, while waiting for the loose one to clear the park. While Smith’s reputation is still growing, Gayle is one of the best going around and has made this format his own in the years gone by.
Even in the ICC World T20 2012 final, Gayle looked tentative and that played into Sri Lanka’s hands and subsequently resulted in Sri Lanka gaining upper-hand, before Marlon Samuels saved the day. Gayle needs to stamp his authority more in these do-or-die scenarios.
If there is any lesson that is learnt so far in the World T20 with this pair, it’s that neither of them likes to play second fiddle. Now, up against Sri Lanka, who have acclimatised the conditions, they have to show their mettle.
It is an indisputable fact that the men from the Caribbean have an endless list of power-hitters, but for a repeat of the 2012 final, Gayle and Smith should find their joie de vivre, because of which they have carved out their identities so far and capitalise on the first six overs. The lower order of the West Indies have worked overtime to bail them out of trouble. West Indies though, need Gayle and Smith to come out guns blazing to retain the tile that they won 2012.
(R Vishal is a journalist and alumni of the Asian College of Journalism. He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell)
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