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Fletcher 84* decimates Sri Lanka

Wisden India logo Wisden India 20-03-2016
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The stands were around 90% full, and fans, many of them in knockoff West Indies team jerseys, were in fine form at M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore on Sunday (March 20) in the hope of ‘local boy’ Chris Gayle putting on a big show for them. ‘Welcome home, Gayle’ said more than one banner, and the ‘We want Gayle’ chorus went up again and again. But it just wasn’t to be.

First, Darren Sammy won the toss and opted to field, and then Gayle walked off the field after 11 overs of the Sri Lanka innings with a left hamstring twinge – and therefore couldn’t come out to bat at the start.

Gayle’s absence from the batting lineup didn’t make a massive difference to the way the game went, even though the big-turning pitch meant West Indies weren’t at their fluent best. Samuel Badree, Sulieman Benn and Dwayne Bravo first conspired to hold Sri Lanka down to 122 for 9 and Andre Fletcher then played an excellent knock to give West Indies a seven-wicket win in their World Twenty20 Super 10 Group 1 match, as the target was breached with ten balls to spare. Sri Lanka, despite a brilliant fightback from their three-pronged spin attack, just didn’t have enough runs on the board to change the flow of the match. The West Indian chase was chiefly about Fletcher, who replaced Jerome Taylor in the XI and Gayle at the top of the order.

Fletcher took Angelo Mathews for a four and a six in a 13-run first over, and didn’t look back after that. He struggled a bit against the spinners, mainly Jeffrey Vandersay, but went along, punctuating ones and twos with the occasional biggie, even as Johnson Charles, Marlon Samuels and Denesh Ramdin fell around him. If anything, Fletcher did quite an impressive impersonation of Gayle. When Ramdin fell, playing a horrendous shot to Milinda Siriwardena to be bowled, Gayle appeared ready to walk out, much to the joy of the crowd. Not yet, said the officials, with Gayle being told he had to wait for 11 minutes or two more wickets to fall before he could walk in. So Gayle had to go back, and Fletcher compensated by smashing the first two deliveries of the 15th over, bowled by Siriwardena, for big sixes down the ground. Soon after, he was caught on the bounce by Dinesh Chandimal behind the stumps off Dushmantha Chameera – the crowd have him out, Gayle looked ready to walk in, but Fletcher was reprieved after the third umpire ruled that the ball had bounced before reaching Chandimal. Fletcher was batting on 71 off 50 balls then.

Vandersay, Lasith Malinga’s replacement in the squad, was the best of the Sri Lankan bowlers, tying up the batsmen in his web of legspinners and wrong ones. But they needed at least four more of his overs to make a serious dent. Since that wasn’t going to happen, and Sri Lanka’s catching seemed to have gone on leave, West Indies carried on, and Fletcher remained in the lead. He finished on 84 from 64 balls with six fours and five muscular sixes, while Andre Russell rushed the end, smashing three fours and a six – to finish the game – in his eight-ball 20. When Sri Lanka started out, all the pre-match talk of this being a big-score pitch looked likely to come true. The second ball of the innings, and the first he had faced, Tillakaratne Dilshan picked up Russell from off and swung him over deep square-leg for six, and followed it up with a flick for four past midwicket. The first over accounted for 13 runs and Dilshan looked in the mood. But morning certainly didn’t show the day, as Badree and Benn kept things tight in the next two overs, and Carlos Brathwaite got a fortuitous lbw decision against Dilshan when the ball was going well down the leg side.

Brakes applied and wicket in the bag, it was over to Badree to turn the screws. Only two runs had come in the fifth over, bowled by Badree, and Chandimal went for a suicidal run, was sent back by Lahiru Thirimanne, and fell well short of his ground to be run out. Thirimanne and Chamara Kapugedara sent Russell for two boundaries in the next over, but Badree had Thirimanne driving him straight to Fletcher’s hands at point in his next over, and in his last, had Kapugedara stumped going for an ill-advised hoick. He finally sent Siriwardene back, caught by Gayle at slip. In cahoots with Benn, who was as effective with none for 13 from his quota of overs, Badree left Sri Lanka reeling at 47 for 5 with his 3 for 12, underscoring his reputation of being one of the best T20 bowlers in the world, and it was a big repair job Mathews and Thisara Perera were left with. They did their bit, adding 44 runs in seven-and-a-half overs – not bad considering the circumstances – before a spot of Bravo magic did Mathews in.

Mathews had taken a couple of steps out, and Bravo dished out a slower beamer, which dipped as it reached Mathews. The batter seemed to lose it, ducked with his bat out, and guided it to Ramdin for the simplest catch he is ever likely to get. It was only Perera’s big, muscular fightback that lifted Sri Lanka out of the abyss, as he swung five fours and a six in his 29-ball 40 before Bravo sent him back caught at long-on by Russell. By that time, in fact soon after Badree had signed off, Bravo’s Champion dance had taken off – on the night, his 2 for 20 was gold considering Perera’s intent, much of which he took out on poor Brathwaite. But a target of 123 was never going to be nearly enough.

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