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Good move, skipper Gayle

Tony Becca, Contributing Editor

At six feet four inches tall, cricketer Christopher Gayle is one of the hardest hitters of the ball, not only among modern batsmen but throughout the history of the game.

Whenever Gayle hits the ball, it generally sails to the boundary, or if it is in the air, it usually goes a long way - as it did while he blasted 10 sixes and seven fours during his amazing innings of 117 off 57 deliveries against South Africa during the ICC's Twenty20 World Championships in South Africa in 2007.

And in Test matches, it has been no different. In Test matches, the balls leaves his bat just as fast, and it races to the boundary or flies over it just as quickly - as it did while smashing 100 off 74 deliveries against South Africa in Cape Town in 2004.

A new batsman

With 5,109 runs, eight centuries, and a batting average of only 39.60 from 134 innings in 75 matches before the first Test against England which ends at Sabina Park today, however, the big left-hander, as exciting as he may be, has been disappointing to his friends in Test cricket.

To them (and there are loads of them), the big left-hander does not, or rather, did not understand that there is a time for everything. A time, such as in limited-overs matches, to stand up, swing the bat, and hope for the best, a time, such as in Test cricket, to control his emotions, his natural tendencies, and especially so as he is the captain, to bat for his team.

His friends, however, must now be happy. Gayle seems a new batsman - one who is determined to bat for his team, to lift his team to the heights he expects it to be, and in terms of scoring a whole lot of runs and building an impressive average, to stamp his class, his real class, on the game.

In New Zealand, after hitting 34, he went to bat in the second innings of the second Test, and with his team trailing by 64 runs, with the West Indies dropping to 106 for four, and defeat staring him in the face, he batted on and on until he was dismissed for 197 at 342 for eight in the 136th over.

It was a great innings, it was a determined performance, it showed immense concentration, he selected his shots magnificently, it lasted for 396 deliveries and 514 minutes, and when it was all over, the West Indies were safe and sound.

What was really great about that performance was that, although he checked himself for so long while ticking off his first century in almost four years (the first since 2004 when he cracked 317 in 630 minutes off 483 deliveries against South Africa at the Antigua Recreation Ground), he still managed to dominate the bowlers, flog them, and smash seven sixes, one of them landing way, way beyond the boundary.

And then came last Thursday and Friday, the second and the third day of the opening Test match against England.

It was testing time for the West Indies, and after a great start, after allowing England, led by Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff, and Matthew Prior, to battle back into the contest, it was important that the West Indies enjoyed a good start, and Gayle was up to it.

Could well be winners

After standing up and driving pacer Flintoff over long-on for six in the second over of the innings, the left-hander, after losing Devon Smith at 18 for one, batted on and on, in company with Ramnaresh Sarwan.

Then, after spanking left-arm spinner Monty Panesar for two sixes while dancing into the 90s, ticked off his first Test century on his home ground at Sabina Park and the ninth of his career before, at 220 for two, he was defeated, not so much by pacer Stuart Broad but more so by a delivery that kept low.

The Test match is not over, and based on what happened on the first three days, based on what happened five years ago, anything can happen today.

One thing is almost certain, however: because of Gayle's mag-nificent batting in the West Indies first innings, 104 runs off 194 deliveries, because of Sarwan's splendid performance while notching his 12th century, the West Indies will not or should not be embarrassed. In fact, with a little luck, they could well be the victors.

Parading his power

One swallow does not a summer make, but after his control and discipline, in two successive innings, West Indians, and especially so his friends, are happy and hoping that this is a new Gayle.

This is a batsman, who, regardless of the limitations with his footwork, is willing to treat each ball on its merit, to select those against which he should defend and those which he should leave alone and those which deserve the full flow of his willow.

This is a captain, who, in the interest of his team, is ready to bat for as long as possible before, when the time is right, when the ball is there to be hit and when he is in a position to hit it, parading his awesome power.