Chris Gayle could barely believe it when the first ball he faced crashed into his pad, because he knew he needed a lucky break to reverse a run of bad form.
It was a heart-stopping start to a record Cricket World Cup innings of 215, and an all-time limited-overs international record partnership of 372 with Marlon Samuels, that set West Indies on course for a 73-run win over Zimbabwe on Tuesday.
In the process, he clattered a record-equaling 16 sixes in his innings. And just for good measure, he took two wickets, and held a catch to help dismiss Zimbabwe for 289, chasing a revised target of 363 after two overs were lost due to rain in Canberra.
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Posting the first double-century in a World Cup – and the third-highest score in a one-day international – was an emphatic response to the critics who said Gayle was out of form, and never produced the goods at the World Cup. He dropped to his knees after reaching 200 runs from 138 balls, raising his bat and his helmet high.
”The start was a bit shaky,” Gayle said. ”To be able to score my first double-century in an ODI is fantastic, so I’ll just try to build on this as much as possible.”
West Indies captain Jason Holder, who took three wickets to derail Zimbabwe’s chase, backed Gayle to produce the kind of match-winning performance the public expects.
”It was a sensational innings, he’s a very pivotal person,” Holder said. ”It does a lot for our confidence. He was going through a lean patch. Hopefully, today is the start of good things to come.”
Gayle, after getting that lucky reprieve to a leg-before wicket appeal before he’d scored, and also being caught off a no-ball on 121, was eventually out when he skied a catch off the last ball of the innings, while Samuels was unbeaten on an ODI career-best 133.
The 35-year-old Jamaican endured a flood of criticism after scores of 36 in the West Indies’ surprising opening four-wicket loss to Ireland, and 4 in the 150-run win over Pakistan. There was quite a fuss made over an errant retweet from a high-ranking West Indies cricket official jokingly suggesting Gayle was due for a retirement package.
”I have never felt this kind of pressure, but in the end, I am sure I gave them something to talk about,” Gayle said.
Still, there were plenty of nerves when Zimbabwe insisted on a review of umpire Steve Davis’ not-out decision in the first over. The ball hit Gayle in front of the stumps, but TV replays indicated it may have gone over the wickets, and he got the benefit of the doubt.
”I didn’t want to be out with the first ball. I said: `You can’t be serious,”’ Gayle said. ”I just want to thank God for this knock.”
It was Gayle’s 22nd ODI century, a West Indies record, but his first since June 2013. In the meantime, he averaged less than 20 per innings in the 50-over format.
”The runs dried up a bit,” Gayle conceded. ”There’s a long way to go in the tournament – hopefully I can build on this.”
Sean Williams, who led the Zimbabwe scoring with 76, said if Gayle had been given out in the first over, the West Indies could have been two wickets down for one run and the complexion of the game would have been dramatically different.
”When the ball hit Gayle’s pad, we thought it was the game-changer,” Williams said. With the ”naked eye it looked out – obviously Hawk-Eye didn’t go our way. We’ve got to build on this and learn from it.”
The West Indies has moved to second spot in Pool B after back-to-back wins, putting the spotlight back on Ireland on Wednesday when it takes on United Arab Emirates in Brisbane.
The Irish chased down the target of 305 with four overs to spare against the West Indies nine days ago in Nelson, New Zealand, but haven’t played since.
Ireland captain William Porterfield said his team, which is unbeaten in 13 games against UAE, had a goal of reaching the quarterfinals.
”We’ve played one game of cricket. We’ve got five to go. We can’t expect to pick up where we left off against the West Indies,” he said. ”So we’ve got to prepare well, as we have done again, and have a look at the UAE.”