As Chris Gayle walked off the pitch in a triumphant glow yesterday, having ripped the heart out of Daniel Vetorri (Temple of Doom style), I’m 89 percent certain that the microphone caught him exclaim to the shocked crowd, “yes, stand up!”. Although, having heard his post game interview, and understood none of it, this may be an aberration of my imagination.
It was a dominant display, no doubt, and made all the more impressive for the fact he managed to look both super pissed off and like the coolest Motherf**ker on the planet (for a cricketer, that’s doubly impressive). Gayle has the solemn air of responsibility about him – completely insular, he remains expressionless for hours upon time, contemplating the tragic injustice of being a lone force of good on this underwhelming West Indies side. But today, he just looked angry. When the game was handed to the fate of sudden death overs, the game was handed to Gayle. Scoring 25 runs from the over (which included a wicket!), Gayle looked like a man among children. As though Dad finally got a bat in the backyard game and decided to remind everyone who rules the house.
A shame, because Vetorri’s bowling was inspirational for all but the last over. A wicket off his first ball was signal of intent, and it was beautiful to see a New Zealand captain willingly put a team on his back. Admittedly I may have jinxed everything when I text my fellow deadballers – “Incredible. Vetorri may have made the leap to greatness. Greatest game ever”. But so be it, nothing stands in the way of my hyperbole.
What really excited me about Vettori’s performance, and to a lesser extent Southee and Mills, was that it signaled a vital maturation of the 20-20 game. I’ve been a cynic of this format mostly because it relegates bowling to an arbitrary exercise. It’s the skill and limitations of the batsman, not the bowler, that determines who scores when and how. Vettori offered my first glimpse of a compelling and dominant bowling display in 20-20 and may have redeemed the game for me.
Then there was Southee, who bowled a disastrous first two overs, that would have crippled most people his age, only to come back and nearly win us the game in the last over. I’m pretty sure this signaled a pivotal moment in Southee’s career – he felt the glaring heat of responsibility and looked entirely comfortable, showing the confidence of a potential superstar. I almost thought he’d do it. First ball – wicket and then three balls later another without conceding any boundaries. If not for an ill-timed four by Benn we’d be toasting a victory right now. But to fail miserably and almost succeed gloriously in the same game is a rare thing. I think Vettori sees a parallel between Southee and himself which hopefully means he’ll continue to mentor and develop him. He’s not there yet, but I am legitimately excited.
This match was an epic, in which we saw two captains carry their teams, the make-or-break of a young bowler and the overall evolution of the game. Will pace bowling, along with one-dayers, die in the shadow of 20-20? It seems like the most successful bowling was a result of dropping the pace off the ball. No more Brett Lees or Shane Bonds? Could be interesting. All I know – the game done changed.