Gayle leads his franchise to victory in global T20 series in Canada
August 9, 2018
The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) will always hold a special place in Chris Gayle’s heart.
Of all the places the Jamaican would have dreamt of making his West Indies cricket team debut, the Toronto Cricket, Skating & Curling Club ground wouldn’t have been one of them.
Yet there he was in September 1999, just 10 days before his 20th birthday, joining the Caribbean side that came to Toronto from Singapore for a One-Day International series involving India and Pakistan.
Gayle, the first player to hit a T20 century and World Cup double hundred, has had enormous success in two subsequent cricket-related visits to the GTA.
In the summer of 2008, he led the West Indies to victory in the Tri-Nation Scotiabank Cup tournament, scoring an unbeaten century in the championship game against Canada in King City. Bermuda was the tournament’s other participant.
A decade later back at King City, Gayle’s Vancouver Knights won the inaugural Global T20 Canada title and the $500,000 first prize, thwarting the Cricket West Indies’ ‘B’ side formidable challenge and getting revenge for an earlier defeat.
He was the captain on both occasions.
Gayle, T20s most prolific run scorer with 11,068 runs from 316 innings, didn’t produce a breathtaking innings in last month’s final. The 38-year-old made his impact in the field, taking a stunning one-handed catch at first slip after the ball popped out of his hand while diving to his left. He however snatched it out of the air with his right hand as he fell to the ground and rolled over.
In a play-off contest three days earlier, the two teams were engaged in one the most thrilling finishes during the two-week tournament.
Pursuing 216, Cricket West Indies ‘B’ lost their third wicket in the third over with the score at 11 before all-rounder Sherfane Rutherford and wicketkeeper/batsman Nicholas Pooran halted the slide with a match-winning partnership of 130 in 11.2 overs.
Rutherford slammed 10 sixes and eleven boundaries in an unbeaten 134, the tournament’s only century.
Former Australian batsman-turned-commentator Dean Jones said it was one of the best innings he has seen in years.
Very few would have predicted the young Caribbean team reaching the final against seasoned T20 performers on challenging pitches.
“The courage that the West Indies kids have shown has been phenomenal,” said Australian opening batsman David Warner. “It just shows that when you play with a clear mind and freedom and you have nothing to lose, good things can happen. It was great that they were given the opportunity to come here and compete.”
New Zealand’s Tim Southee was on the receiving end of Rutherford and Pooran’s blitz.
“They played excellent cricket shots,” noted the swing bowler who conceded successive sixes to Rutherford over the midwicket and cover boundaries in the 12th over. “The fearless style of Caribbean cricket came out.”
Assistant coach Roddy Estwick said the team’s motto was, ‘Make the impossible possible’.
“We came here with nothing to lose,” he pointed out. “We told them to go out and play and enjoy the moment while having a chance to enhance their reputations. Most of the guys have played together at the Under-19 level, so it was easy to build team spirit and camaraderie. We had an edge over the other teams that came together for the first time just before the tournament started.”
The first high-profile T20 tournament to be played in North America attracted some of the world’s top players in the game’s shortest format, including Warner and Steve Smith who are serving 12-month bans imposed by Cricket Australia for a ball-tampering incident in South Africa last March.
“It’s exceptional for Canadian cricket to get the calibre of players that we have here,” said Warner who, despite being permanently banned from assuming any Australian cricket leadership positions, was installed as the Winnipeg Hawks captain when Dwayne Bravo left after the third game to fulfil a contract with Middlesex in England’s Vitality Blast T20 competition.
Warner, whose highest score was 55, said he enjoyed playing in Canada for the first time.
“Getting together a group of players in a short period of time and trying to build trust and friendship while having to go out on the field and attempt to execute is challenging,” said the pugnacious batsman who will represent the St. Lucia Stars in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) T20 tournament starting on August 8. “Whether it was playing football or having a laugh that are things that help to strengthen teams, I had a good time with the boys.”
But for the final that was well attended with about 6,000 filling the temporary seats, crowds were generally small during the tournament that coincided with soccer’s world cup.
Inadequate publicity leading up to the start, the venue’s proximity about an hour’s drive north of the city, a saturated cricket marketplace and other competing summer activities and interests may also have contributed to the low turnout.
Yet, organizers are confident the tournament – broadcast live in Canada and around the world – is destined for growth.
Mercuri-Canada, an Indian entertainment company, signed a 25-year deal with Cricket Canada to manage and operate the league.
“The ultimate goal is to take matches to other Canadian cities,” said Mercuri-Canada director Ashit Patel. “We would also love to have the United States involved and travel to New York, Florida and Houston and play there. The plan is to get the region involved in the next three to five years.”
With each side required to have four Canadian players (an Under-23 among the group) on their roster and play at least one in a match opened the door for local cricketers to compete against some of the world’s top players.
Some made full use of the prized opportunity.
National captain Nitish Kumar averaged 20.4 in six matches and 31-year-old all-rounder Saad Bin Zafar was the final’s Most Valuable Player with a game-high 79 not out off 48 balls. He also picked up two wickets for 26 runs in his allotted four overs.
“One of the areas we are most proud of is those 31 Canadians being involved and seeing them perform at the highest level,” said tournament director Jason Harper. “Those are the measurables we generally care about.”
Harper suggested that tournament enhancements could include drop-in pitches prepared elsewhere and transported to King City.
“It has to happen,” he added. “If you want to maintain the quality of the game and advance where we are going, we have to have an honest discussion about the investments we need to make and that is one of them.”