Exactly 12 days after their last encounter here at the R. Premadasa Stadium, Australia and the West Indies will face-off again but the clash has infinitely higher stakes riding on it.
The spotlight ahead of Friday’s ICC World Twenty20 semifinal has, however, centred on the same two individuals, who impacted the previous encounter too with their fiery bats.
Chris Gayle and Shane Watson continue to dominate the information highway and their respective performances will have a huge bearing on the game. But, the last few days have been a bit rough for the duo with Watson failing against Pakistan and Gayle finding prying policemen breaching his privacy.
The teams have taken contrasting paths with Australia storming past inept rivals before getting hypnotised by the Pakistani spinners, while the West Indies has had an up-down campaign. Yet, when it comes to immediate history between George Bailey’s men and Darren Sammy’s zesty group, the tale is as close as it can get.
In their Group B match on a weekend that drew crowds, the West Indies tested Australia. Gayle and Marlon Samuels whipped the Australian bowlers. Bailey’s men eventually prevailed as Watson’s frenzy and a rain-induced early climax meant that Australia was ahead of the score prescribed by the Duckworth-Lewis method.
A lot still rides on Gayle and a few days ago, the belligerent opener had tweeted to Ross Taylor, a fellow member of the big-hitter’s association. “We will fire against Aussie Ross,” was the message.
Gayle (144 runs) is currently the top-scorer for the West Indies in this tournament and he, along with Samuels and Johnson Charles, has largely shepherded the batting with a few biffs from Dwayne Bravo lending some spice.
The bowling, though, remains a sore spot as Sunil Narine (four wickets) has not had the impact expected of him. But those woes have been partially overcome thanks to the outstanding fielding the men from the Caribbean have dished out so far.
If the West Indies has to find ways of ensuring its morale doesn’t exclusively ride on Gayle’s shoulders, Australia has to prove that there is more to its batting besides Watson, David Warner and Michael Hussey.
Against Pakistan, its batting went into a tail-spin after the early departures of Watson and Warner, but Hussey continued to be the spine.
Much like Narine’s lukewarm show for the West Indies, Brad Hogg (two wickets) too has not excelled for Australia. Watson and Mitchell Starc have guided Australia’s bowling fortunes and they and the rest have to be at their best against Gayle.
In a bid to strengthen its all-round skills, Australia might offer a berth to David Hussey in its playing eleven. The stage is set and it remains to be seen if Gayle can extend his ‘Gangnam’ dance or whether the Aussies will wind up Friday night with victory and beer as their companions.
The teams (from):
Australia: G. Bailey (captain), S. Watson (vice-captain), D. Warner, D. Christian, Michael Hussey, C. White, M. Wade, P. Cummins, M. Starc, B. Hilfenhaus, C. McKay, B. Hogg, X. Doherty, G. Maxwell and David Hussey.
West Indies: D. Sammy (captain), Dwayne Bravo (vice-captain), C. Gayle, J. Charles, K. Pollard, M. Samuels, Darren Bravo, S. Badree, F. Edwards, S. Narine, D. Ramdin, R. Rampaul, A. Russell, L. Simmons and D. Smith.
Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena and Aleem Dar; Third umpire: Richard Kettleborough; Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle.
Keywords: ICC World Twenty20