CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Saturday January 10, 2015, CMC – Explosive opener Chris Gayle announced his return to international cricket after nearly five months with a stunning half-century, but West Indies made a meal of their target before stumbling past South Africa by four wickets in the opening Twenty20 International of the three-match series here Friday.
The 35-year-old left-hander, who has been side-lined in recent months by injury, slammed the fastest T20 half-century by a West Indies batsman en route to a top score of 77 off 31, an innings which allowed the Caribbean side to chase down their target of 166, with only four deliveries remaining at Newlands.
Gayle belted five fours and eight whopping sixes, raising his 12th T20I half-century off a mere 17 balls to break Kieron Pollard’s record of the fastest fifty by a West Indies player which had come off 20 deliveries.
Marlon Samuels chipped in with 41 off 37 balls and Dwayne Smith made a run-a-ball 20 in an up tempo opening stand of 78 off 37 balls with Gayle, to lay the foundation for the Windies victory bid.
However, as has become the norm, the Caribbean side needed to inject the now obligatory drama into what otherwise should have been a straightforward run chase, especially after Gayle’s fireworks paved the way.
Cruising at 147 for two in the 16th over, the Windies suddenly suffered an attack of nerves and lost four quick wickets for 17 runs in the space of 24 deliveries, to carry the game down to the last over.
Wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin then top-edged a hook at fast bowler David Wiese to fall to a catch at long leg off the first ball, adding further worry to the West Indies camp but Pollard, who finished eight not out, smashed the next delivery to the mid-wicket ropes to end the contest.
Earlier, Rilee Rossouw pounded an unbeaten 51 off 40 balls to steer South Africa to 165 for four off their 20 overs, after they opted to bat first.
Captain Faf du Plessis was brilliant in getting 38 off 20 balls while shotgun David Miller was held to just 24 from 21 deliveries.
Left-arm seamer Sheldon Cottrell, who was handed the new ball, finished with two for 33 and bowled a great final over which cost just seven runs.
South Africa were handed decent enough start of 30 by Morne van Wyk (17) and Reeza Hendricks (12), who managed to negotiate handy short spells from seamers Cottrell, Jason Holder and Andre Russell.
Van Wyk, especially, looked dangerous early on, whipping the third ball of the game from Cottrell over square leg for six, and following up with two boundaries on either side of the wicket in the third over bowled by Russell.
Cottrell got the breakthrough, however, trapping Hendricks lbw in the fifth over with a full length delivery which swung in and Holder followed up in the next over, having van Wyk neatly taken at slip by Gayle, to leave the Proteas on 33 for two.
However, Rossouw then anchored two partnerships to rally the hosts. He put on 46 for the third wicket with du Plessis and then added a further 48 for the fourth wicket with Miller.
Du Plessis accelerated the scoring, cracking five fours and two sixes before gifting his wicket by skying a Russell full toss to captain Darren Sammy at mid-off in the tenth over.
Rossouw, who hit five fours overall, and Miller, who found the boundary just once, then struggled to really lift the scoring as South Africa were held to 86 runs from their last ten overs.
West Indies were three without loss after the first over with Gayle scratching around for three balls over a single run, but it masked the pyrotechnics to follow.
Seemingly awakened by a bouncer from fast bowler Kagiso Rabada that whistled passed his helmet in the second over, Gayle then sensationally launched the final two deliveries of the over for straight sixes.
He cleared long off with pacer Kyle Abbott in the next over and then ripped into the Rabada in the 19-year-old’s second over which gushed 17 runs.
Smith raised the Windies fifty off 26 balls with the first of two boundaries in the over from Wiese and then watched as Gayle savaged Parnell in the bowler’s first over – the sixth of the innings – which went for 23 runs.
Gayle brought up his half-century off the final ball of the over, carving Parnell to the cover point boundary.
Off the first ball of the next over – the first from Imran Tahir – Smith missed a reverse sweep and was lbw but Gayle put on 36 for the second wicket with Samuels to keep West Indies on course for victory.
Gayle took a liking to Imran Tahir, punching the bowler over long off for six in his second over and then collecting two consecutive sixes in the spinner’s following over. However, Gayle perished off the fifth ball of the same over, brushing a reverse sweep behind.
Samuels, who hit five fours and a six, and Bravo added 33 off 26 balls for the third wicket but once Bravo fell to a catch at mid-wicket off a leading edge off Parnell, the Windies wobbled before eventually steadying themselves to take the series lead.