Big-hitting Charles and Gayle, stingy spells from Narine, Badree and Gayle, and spectacular fielding take West Indies home
Johnson Charles and Chris Gayle fired the imagination of the Pallekele crowd with an attractive display of power hitting as the West Indies got the better of England in yet another high-scoring match at the ground. West Indies posted 179 for 5 from its 20 overs, and this proved 15 too many for England, despite a blazing 36-ball 71 from Eoin Morgan.
When you have Gayle in your team, it makes sense to bat first and Darren Sammy did just that. The pitch, which had already been used in the thriller between Sri Lanka and New Zealand, held up remarkably well, and it was only some hapless bowling from England’s seamers and spinners that allowed West Indies to race away.
Gayle was the first off the blocks, pinning Jade Dernbach for three boundaries in the second over of the match. Stuart Broad also got the treatment, but it wasn’t until the 8th over of the innings, when Samit Patel was introduced, that Gayle really opened his shoulders. Patel dropped the third ball of the over short and Gayle, despite not hitting it sweetly, got enough to put the ball over the ropes at midwicket. The fifth ball was slog-swept for an even bigger six and when Gayle hit through the line of the last ball, 19 runs had come off the over.
Typically, when Gayle is firing, the batsman at the other end is content just feeding him the strike, but Charles decided to have some fun of his own, going after Graeme Swann. Charles, a 23-year-old right-hand bat from St Lucia, favoured the leg side, and pinged an arc from square-leg to long-on in an 18-run over.
West Indies had muscularly wrested the momentum from England, and it was not until the 11th over that they had a look in. Charles swung Swann to the deep and Steven Finn put down a straightforward chance. Off the very next ball, Gayle hit to exactly the same region, and this time Finn held on. Gayle had made 58 from only 35 balls in an opening stand of 103.
Charles then took over the scoring, and this was a good thing for the West Indies as no one at the other end could provide a meaningful contribution. Charles racked up his best Twenty20I score, 84 off only 56 balls, as West Indies ended on 179 for 5 having threatened earlier to breach the 200-mark.
England, skittled out for just 80 by India in its previous game, needed a good start if it wanted to put West Indies under pressure, and what it got was the opposite. Craig Kieswetter tried to smack Ravi Rampaul out of the ground without getting in any position to do so, and off the second ball of the chase England had lost its first wicket without a run on the board as the ball looped to point for a simple catch.
Luke Wright shaped to leave the first ball that came to him, but was too late withdrawing and guided the ball straight to Gayle at first slip, prompting a Gangnam-Style celebration with the score reading 0/2. The hat-trick ball passed harmlessly, but the early double-strike forced Alex Hales and Jonny Bairstow to put their heads down and consolidate.
When you’re chasing nine runs an over, every over spent keeping the bowling out instead of attempting to score takes you further towards defeat, and when Bairstow was dismissed for 18 off 29 balls, England had consumed ten overs in getting to 55.
From there on, it needed a blinder to change the course of the game, and though Eoin Morgan showed why he is the best limited-overs batsman in this team in the absence of Kevin Pietersen, scoring 135 off the last 10 overs was a bridge too far. Morgan used the depth of the crease well, moving right back to get under the ball and hit it down the ground, and chose the time to play the sweep judiciously.
As the overs wound down, Morgan and Hales accelerated, and three consecutive 10-plus overs offered just a ray of hope. The 17th and 19th overs went for 15 and 16 respectively, and when England went into the final over needing 23 with two set batsmen at the crease, all was not lost.
Marlon Samuels, who had gone for 25 in his first two overs, was thrown the ball, and speared the darts in. Hales (68) took one risk too many, and was stumped by a mile off the fourth ball, and the chase ended. Morgan, who had played quite magnificently for his 71, was the picture of disappointment as England began its Super Eights campaign on a low note.