Chris Gayle Marks Return To Tests In Impressive Style
Chris Gayle made an impressive return to five-day cricket with a powerful century as West Indies took firm control of the opening Test against New Zealand in Antigua.
Gayle, playing his first Test for more than 18 months due to his stand-off with the West Indies Cricket Board, hit 150 and opening partner Kieran Powell 134 as the Windies reached 522 all out at lunch on the fourth day.
Gayle’s presence appeared to lift the entire team and all the other batsmen chipped in with useful contributions to give the Windies a handy lead of 171 runs on the first innings.
Gayle and Powell continued to torment New Zealand with centuries as West Indies surpassed New Zealand’s first innings score of 351 and looked to bat New Zealand out of the game.
Resuming from their overnight 145 for no loss, the pair continued their total domination of the bowling in a stand of 254. It was the first time in 13 years that both West Indian openers had hit centuries, the last pair being Sherwin Campbell and Adrian Griffith in Hamilton in 1999.
The session after lunch brought better luck for New Zealand, as they dislodged the opening pair that had tormented them since yesterday, but it didn’t alter the complexion of the game. New Zealand created opportunities with the swing on offer with the new ball, but once the batsmen had seen off that period, the visitors were left waiting for mistakes.
Gayle added only four to his score after lunch when he tried to clear Kane Williamson over long-on but was caught well in front of the rope. Powell got to his maiden Test century with a flourish just as Gayle had done earlier, with a boundary. There were fielders placed on the deep on the on side and he managed to place it between the two with a strong pull off Neil Wagner.
The new ball, taken after 83 overs with West Indies at 269 for 1, posed questions straightaway as Doug Bracewell teased the left-handers with his inswing. There were a couple of marginal lbw shouts against Powell and Assad Fudadin, but the ball looked to be missing the leg stump. The left-handed pair looked more comfortable with the ball swinging away as they fetched boundaries through the off side.
Powell looked good to carry on to a big hundred when he took on Wagner for three consecutive fours through the off side, including a scoop over mid-off. However, he fell off the fourth, chasing a delivery well wide of the off stump and feathering an edge to the keeper to give a pumped-up Wagner his first Test wicket. Marlon Samuels survived a testing first delivery, deflected down the leg side, and a run-out. Samuels was sent back, but the throw was wide and cost New Zealand four overthrows. Samuels helped West Indies towards the lead with some pleasing drives off the front foot.
West Indies had been able to cruise through the morning session thanks to the 254-run stand between Gayle and Powell. It was as if Gayle’s century was scripted. Given his stupendous limited-overs form, a Test century was there for the taking against a bowling attack low on confidence and form. Gayle started the day with a flat six over long-off off Daniel Vettori to take him to the nineties. Keen to reach his landmark in style he pulled a short delivery by Chris Martin and just about cleared the rope to get from 97 to 103. Gayle punched the air and acknowledged his 14th Test century, one that will be talked about for long, given that it came after an exile of one-and-a-half years.
New Zealand relied on Wagner’s reverse swing to possibly sneak in a wicket or two with the old ball. With the ball swinging in sharply towards the pads, a silly mid-on and short midwicket was placed for the checked drive. It didn’t change New Zealand’s luck as Powell managed to chip it over midwicket and keep out the fuller deliveries. One one occasion, Gayle miscued an on drive and yet managed to beat mid-on comfortably. It was that sort of morning for New Zealand.
The patient Powell couldn’t resist a slash over gully that brought up the double-century stand, the ninth in West Indies history. It was also the highest partnership for any wicket by West Indies since December 2010, when Gayle last played a Test. It only underlined Gayle’s impact in the side and why they missed him so much.
Gayle offered his second chance of the innings when the ball turned, kissed the glove and lobbed to first slip where Ross Taylor fluffed a straightforward take. New Zealand didn’t get too many chances coming their way, and they will wonder what could have been had they halted Gayle on 36 yesterday