Tim writes for The New York Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Economist, ESPNCricinfo, and is a contributor for The New Statesman. He was named CMJ Young Journalist of the Year in 2015 and is co-author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts
“We want Gayle! We want Gayle!” For the many in the Bangalore crowd who had turned up largely to see Chris Gayle it was a disappointing night. They implored their hero to come out to bat, he teased and tantalised them, and at one point they were denied only because the umpires ruled that not enough time had elapsed since Gayle stopped fielding in Sri Lanka’s innings.
Quick Single: Fletcher, Badree dominate Sri Lanka
Not that the West Indies were perturbed. When they disposed of England in their opening match, they had been accused of overdependence upon Gayle. Here they triumphed without him batting or bowling for a single ball.
It was a triumph rooted in the West Indies’ team selection. Despite chasing down 183 so easily against England, they reasoned that they needed an extra batsman, to reduce their reliance on Gayle, so Andre Fletcher replaced Jerome Taylor. They would need Fletcher later. In the meantime, far from suffering from being a bowler-short, the West Indies still did not use a single over from Darren Sammy or Gayle.
First it fell to the West Indies’ spinners to give them a dominant position in the match. After Sri Lanka had scored 13 from the opening Andre Russell over. Sammy responded by using his spinners proactively. Samuel Badree also opened, as is the norm, and Sulieman Benn replaced Russell after his expensive over. The West Indies kept tinkering, using four different bowler for the first four overs.
Now Sammy entrusted Badree to stunt Sri Lanka’s progress. It has been seven years since Badree’s last first-class game, but he has a style ideally suited to the T20 age. His leg-spin is delivered with accuracy, pace and bounce, and he is particularly skilled bowling to left-handers. Badree does not spin the ball much, but arguably that is an advantage in T20: it means the ball arrives at the batsman quicker, and makes it harder to open up angles.
Badree’s endeavours were backed up by assertive captaincy from Sammy. Fielders in the ring choked off singles, and aggression was rewarded when Milinda Siriwardana was implored to edge to slip after twice groping at deliveries angled across him.
In the event, there was a recovery from the depths of 5-49 off nine overs but only a modest one. That West Indies retained control owed to Sulimmen Benn, who conceded just 11 runs in a three-over spell beginning in the 11th over, and 13 from his four in total.
Thereafter perhaps West Indies bemoaned not having a third spinner. Had Sunil Narine been around, and in form like that he showed before being forced to rehabilitate his bowling action, there would have been no reprieve for Sri Lanka at all.
Still, West Indies still showed far too much savvy to let Sri Lanka get close to 150, the score that Angelo Matthews reckoned would have been competitive. Dwayne Bravo showcased all his array of slower balls, cutters and yorkers, even snaring Matthews with a delivery that looped onto the top of his bat and into the wicketkeeper’s gloves.
Perhaps the most obvious contrast between the West Indies and Sri Lanka was in the field. While the West Indies were effervescent, as highlighted by the two run-outs effected, including Johnson Charles salvaging a ball that seemed beyond him at point and hurling it into the keeper, Sri Lanka were lackadaisical. Two simple chances, one apiece by Chamara Kapugedera and Nuwan Kulasekara, were spilled. There was a more generalised sense of shoddiness, as misfields repeatedly crept in, so Sri Lanka had little reason to indulge in the exuberant dances beloved by Bravo after he picked up the ball in his run-up and then hurled down the stumps to enforce a run-out in the final over.
In their team selection, Sri Lanka had one tactical edge over the West Indies: they had selected three frontline spinners, rather than two, to exploit the assistance the Bangalore pitch provided to spin. The trio all bowled admirably, especially legspinner Jeffrey Vandersay, who had only flown in to replace Lasith Malinga a day before.
But while Sri Lanka were largely flatfooted playing against spin, the West Indies showed a penchant for using foot movement to disrupt the bowlers. No one did that better than Andre Fletcher. His promotion to open rendered him an unloved, unwanted and cheap Gayle impersonator. Yet, from the moment he heaved his third ball emphatically down the ground for six, Fletcher exuded confidence and certainty. Remarkably, he scored 71 of the West Indies’ first 90 runs. Perhaps his success even rendered Gayle’s temporary injury a touch of Caribbean good fortune; Fletcher had originally been slated to slot in at number four.
To judge from the nonchalant hitting, assiduous running and shrewd steering of the ball, a counterpoint to his power, Fletcher does not intend to shift from the opening berth anytime soon. After another comprehensive victory, this one rooted in team rather than individual brilliance, the West Indies have no intention of shifting from the top spot in their group. Here is proof that, even shorn of Gayle, the West Indies can win with style.