NORTH SOUND, Antigua (CMC) — Chris Gayle benefitted from a huge slice of fortune and marked his return to Tests with a typically flamboyant half-century to lead a strong West Indies reply against New Zealand in the first Test yesterday.
The talismanic opener, playing in his first Test for more than 19 months, was unbeaten on 85 and Kieran Powell was not out on 58, as West Indies reached 145 without loss, replying to New Zealand’s first innings total of 351 at the close on the second day.
Gayle treated a modest crowd at the Vivian Richards Cricket Ground to a spectacular volley of strokes, after Sunil Narine captured 5-132 from 43 overs, as New Zealand’s innings folded about an hourand-a-quarter after lunch.
Left-hander Gayle galloped to 36 with strokes all around the wicket before he fenced a delivery from Bracewell that rose sharply to backward point and Daniel Flynn put him down.
This failed to deter Gayle and he reached his 50 from just 39 balls with a single to long-on in the first over from left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori.
Gayle got into stride immediately with four straight boundaries in the first over of the innings from Chris Martin.
He dragged the third delivery through mid-on, drove the next delivery through mid-off, drilled the penultimate delivery straight, and lifted the final delivery over extra cover.
Gayle also collected three fours in Neil Wagner’s third over, when he swatted a short delivery over mid-on, drove the fourth delivery on the up past extra cover, and slashed another short delivery — outside the off stump — over backward point from the final delivery of the left arm fast-medium bowler.
After he reached his landmark, Gayle slowed down, choosing discretion as the best part of valour, and the zeroed in on making the occasion grander.
Powell, a graduate of the West Indies High Performance Centre, remained unflappable at the other end and arrived at his 50 from 128 balls with a sweep to the deep fine leg for his eighth boundary.
He looked as classy as he usually does and drew on the presence of Gayle at the other end to offer stability to his batting, and continued to pick off runs each time the New Zealand bowlers fractionally strayed off line or length.
Earlier, West Indies captain Darren Sammy had continued the demolition of the New Zealand innings after lunch, when Vettori miscued a pull at a short, rising ball and was caught at mid-wicket for 17.
Next over, Narine, playing in only his second Test, completed his five-for, when Kruger van Wyk turned a sharply spun delivery to forward short leg and was caught for 11.
West Indies appeared to have wrapped up the New Zealand innings, when umpire Paul Reiffel of Australia upheld Narine’s lbw appeal over Bracewell.
The home team players were already trekking off the field, when TV technology suggested the delivery would have missed the stumps after the Black Caps’ tail-ender reviewed the decision.
West Indies bowlers, Sammy in particular, came in for some harsh treatment from Bracewell, whose 31-ball cameo contained five fours and a pair of sixes before Shivnarine Chanderpaul held a remarkable catch running back at deep mid-on to dismiss him off Ravi Rampaul.
Rampaul ended with 2-44 from 23.1 overs and Kemar Roach finished with 2-55 from 23 overs.
Before lunch, West Indies had started to make inroads into the New Zealand batting, as the visitors reached 287 for seven at the interval.
Narine set the Black Caps back early, after they resumed from their overnight total of 232 for four, when he had night watchman Neil Wagner caught at slip for four, sparring at a delivery that bounced sharply in the second over of the morning. West Indies were held up, when Dean Brownlie and Kane Williamson batted resolutely for close to an hour to consolidate for the Black Caps with a stand of 40 for the sixth wicket.
Roach, returning for his second spell of the morning, separated them, when he bowled Williamson for 19 off the inside edge with a delivery that moved back and the batsman tried to force through the off-side.
Ravi Rampaul continued the slide, when Brownlie edged a perfectly pitched delivery that bounced and moved away, and was caught behind for 23.