x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Gayle and Watson are the men in the middle

Despite the captains' talk, teamwork is the common missing link as West Indies and Australia do battle in Colombo.

Chris Gayle remains the West Indies' main stay.
Chris Gayle remains the West Indies' main stay.

COLOMBO // It was sometime in June, just as Chris Gayle said "everything has been rectified", that the West Indies assumed the position of serious contenders for the World T20.

With Gayle's return, after a long and particularly disputatious battle with his cricket board, the West Indies also began gaining the kind of neutral support their older teams used to. For this tournament, the West Indies were most people's second side.

Happily for everyone, they find themselves two games away from a second global title in eight years, although they are up against a team who were until one game ago, the form side. But despite being so fancied, they have reached the last four in a way not befitting that status.

They are not undeserving semi-finalists, but they have only won one game outright in five, against England in the Super Eights.

Rain brought them one win and one defeat and they needed a Super Over to beat New Zealand.

The beauty of it is that they can actually be much better than they have been.

"We qualified for the semis and I don't think we have brought our A-game on to the cricket field," said Darren Sammy, their likeable captain.

"We have another opportunity to do that. Once we play to our full potential, once everybody clicks as a team, we will be a destructive force. We know that in the dressing room and we are quite confident we can go out and do that in the semi-finals."

Much of the attention will focus on Gayle and he probably does not like it any other way. And though Sammy rightly points out game changers other than Gayle, the way he starts will set the tone.

Australia, unexpectedly, find themselves in a similar boat. Their very strength is that they do not rely on individuals alone, but so immense has the opener Shane Watson been in this tournament that, through no fault of anyone, Australia has become reliant.

Their middle order has hardly been tested and when it was, against Pakistan, it did not show up well at all.

George Bailey, as amicable a leader as Sammy, has been answering questions about the large shadow Watson has cast throughout the tournament. Asked again if Australia were too dependent on him, Bailey was sanguine.

"A bit [dependent on him]. If we bat the way we do then I don't think so," he said.

"Everything is based on hindsight isn't it? Our middle order is good and if he misses out and we score then we don't depend on Watson, but if he misses out and we too miss out then yes we depend on him.

"We have absolute confidence in the middle order that we have and they can score enough runs to give a total that we can defend or chase down."

Like Gayle too much has been made of Watson's contributions because it hides the fact that Australia have some serious players for the format.

David Hussey, among the best T20 batsmen, is likely to find a way back into the XI to strengthen that middle order. And their pace attack has been the best here by a considerable distance.

For all that it is a team sport, cricket and Twenty20 cricket especially regularly hinges on what Bailey recognised as "games within the game". If Gayle fires, if Watson does, if Mitchell Starc does, if Sunil Narine does.

"If Gayle has an outstanding game then he will make it difficult for us but we can come back through Watson, Warner and Hussey."


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