Cape Town - A rapid switch of cities and cricketing environments hardly presents a guarantee that Chris Gayle, scourge of South Africa in the Twenty20 international series opener at Newlands here on Friday, will suddenly be muzzled.
As it happened: SA v West Indies, 1st T20
The West Indies’ blaster extraordinaire almost single-handedly teed up his team’s four-wicket victory in the first of three contests in the format through his devastating salvo of 77 runs off 31 balls - including the Caribbean outfit’s fastest recorded 50 thus far - and there may now also be no place to hide for the Proteas’ bowlers in the quick turnaround to the Wanderers on Sunday.
Perhaps the best hope for the shell-shocked home side, needing to level matters to stay in the series, is that the 35-year-old Gayle, who runs gingerly on the rare occasions he has to scamper between the wickets - he is truly an old-fashioned “dealer in boundaries” - is still feeling the effects of his time in the middle further south and somehow inhibited in his stroke-play at the Bullring.
But even if he so often looks like a knee or hamstring-pop waiting to happen, the veteran opener remarkably finds ways to keep firing.
Let’s face it, he managed to keep sharp singles and twos to an agreeable personal minimum in game one, where all but nine of his runs came via fours or sixes: there were eight of the latter and that is exactly double what South Africa managed in their entire innings after winning a good toss and posting what initially looked a competitive 165 for four.
Competitive? In the blink of an eye, and with the tall left-handed destroyer to the fore, West Indies had got to the 50-mark in the chase in a flimsy 4.2 overs, and from there you could just about have submitted already that there was only going to be one winner.
Gayle took a particular liking, out of the blocks, to his recent Lions team-mate Kagiso Rabada, the promising young quick bowler who couldn’t genuinely be said to have bowled badly - it is just that when Gayle is in the right mood, good balls can become badly bruised balls on the concrete floor of Row M.
And when the best an inexperienced seamer has to offer is being treated with pure contempt, where else can the hapless victim really turn?
Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis, who for a short while earlier had been the closest the home cause could come to Gayle for dashing enterprise, ruefully described the onslaught as “a great learning experience for some of our bowlers” and “a bit of a captain’s nightmare” in terms of his trying to stop the haemorrhaging.
What is worrisome for the Johannesburg clash is that the West Indies’ ace will not be slow to realise that if he gets going anew, the damage could be every bit as severe given the thin Highveld air and reputation of the Wanderers anyway as a batting paradise if the pitch is its usual, fast and true self for limited-overs matches.
Gayle not only has the advantage of having batted there a couple of times just a few weeks ago as the Lions’ superstar guest in the domestic RamSlam T20 competition, but also the satisfaction of knowing he boasts “previous” at the higher level at the stadium.
In only his fourth T20 international in September 2007, during the maiden ICC World Twenty20 tournament, the charismatic Jamaican lashed 117 runs off a blistering 57 deliveries (strike rate over 200) as West Indies amassed 205 for six against the host-nation South Africans.
Fortunately for the Proteas, they boasted a carefree assassin of their own at the front of the order, Herschelle Gibbs (is this sort of X-factor man a bit lacking in the opening pair at present?) countering with 90 not out off 55 balls as SA amazingly won by eight wickets.
That is perhaps something for Du Plessis and his charges to grab some hope and inspiration from, even if another Gayle blitz can hardly be discounted on Sunday.
After all, once he was dismissed late in the 11th over, the Proteas did make West Indies labour just a little to get over the line - they lost four further wickets for 54 runs in 8.3 overs so it is not as though South Africa simply fell apart, and that is a decent sign.
Yet clearly ways have to be found to prevent Gayle from getting another deadly sniff of a rampage at the Wanderers.
One very risky attempt at a solution might be to introduce leg-spinner Imran Tahir - SA’s most effective bowler at Newlands - immediately, rather than in his more customary position after the powerplay.
But arguably the more obvious step is to go for broke and recall the fast (and yes, potentially even loose) Marchant de Lange to try to knock over Gayle smartly.
“He is big, strong and very quick ... he can be the ace in the pack,” helpfully suggested visiting West Indian commentator and former Test head-hunter Ian Bishop.
It may be advice worth taking on board.
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