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When Guptill Did A Gayle On The West Indies

21/03/2015 7:26 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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New Zealand’s Martin Guptill celebrates after scoring a double century while batting against the West Indies during their Cricket World Cup quarterfinal match in Wellington, New Zealand, Saturday, March 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Ross Setford)

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To the chagrin of cricket fans all over the world, the fourth quarter-final of the World Cup also turned into a terribly one-sided affair. True, while Chris Gayle was spraying sixes to all parts of the ground, it was thrilling to watch and some might even have believed that an upset was on the cards. But frankly, the West Indies batting just did not have the mettle to chase down 394 for a win.

By this I don't mean they did not have talent. Some of the biggest, cleanest strikers seen in the tournament have worn maroon caps. Players like Gayle, Simmons, Samuels, Sammy, Russell and Holder have the talent and power to play the big shots and score at a frenetic pace. Moot question was whether they had the bandwidth to build an innings, or partnerships, and lead their team to victory.

Clearly not, for while the batsmen had to play their shots from the word go to get to 394, the chase had still to be chiseled and constructed. This had to be done by an intelligent mix of attacking strokes and the need to preserve wickets. To put it simply, there had to be a method to the madness.

Martin Guptill, who played the innings of the tournament in my opinion in scoring a brilliant 237 showed just how. He didn't go hell for leather - at least not till he was past his century and New Zealand were in a healthy enough situation to risk a batsman or two. When the West Indies bowlers were at their wits ends, and the shoulders were sagging, is when Guptill exploded.

It can be justifiably argued that Guptill was playing at home and therefore more familiar with the conditions. But the best players take cures from their opponents even while a match is in progress and devise or revise their tactics accordingly.

The pitch was flat, the bounce even and splendid for strokeplay, the square boundaries short and the outfield lightning fast: all suggesting that this was a batsman's paradise provided he did not make fundamental lapses in concentration.

In a sense, Guptill had done a Gayle on the West Indies. For his side to win, either Gayle had to do a Guptill on New Zealand single-handedly,

Of course the target was stiff; in fact, the West Indies had a mountain to climb. Some part of this was because of their own shoddy bowling for they seemed to get the length all wrong - either too full or a fraction short, which Guptill and Co. exploited to the hilt. Yet, if one side can score 393, the other could too. And remember, West Indies bat deep with some big hitters in the late order.

In a sense, Guptill had done a Gayle on the West Indies. For his side to win, either Gayle had to do a Guptill on New Zealand single-handedly, or the responsibility should have been shared among the many batsmen in the side.

The latter was the more pragmatic approach. Gayle did as well as was expected of him. But to want a double century from his bat every time is asking for too much. The greater need was for batsmen to play supporting roles around Gayle, and switch gears only when imperative.

It almost seemed as if these players were playing in a T20 World Championship or league rather than trying to win a 50-50 World Cup.

But instead of tempering their strokes, trying to build a couple of decent partnerships and then going for broke in the last 15-20 overs, the West Indies batsmen went about as if every ball had to be hit out of the ground.

It almost seemed as if these players were playing in a T20 World Championship or league rather than trying to win a 50-50 World Cup. While both come under the genre of limited overs cricket, tactics fro the two formats differ drastically.

Going by simple arithmetic, the asking rate for the West Indies to win was almost 8 runs per over. But the formula to win such matches does not entail making eight or more runs every over: rather, it is to get a good start, build a good base, keep wickets in hand so that the later batsmen can accelerate, even up to 12-15 runs per over.

This is precisely what New Zealand did. The West Indies, on the other hand, took the devil-may-care route. Consequently, while they did sustain the eight-runs-per-over rate right through, their innings lasted just 30.3 overs.

There is no guarantee that the West Indies would have won with a more structured approach. But it would certainly have made the match closer. And who knows how the New Zealand team would have fared under pressure.

On the long flight back home to the Caribbean, the West Indies players would be mulling whether they had not turned their biggest strength into their biggest weakness.

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