The world finally got to see Chris Gayle in Somerset colours on Friday evening at Chelmsford, and he showed what the fuss was all about with a brilliant innings of 92 to help his new county open their account in the 2015 NatWest t20 Blast.
Gayle only landed in the UK on Monday and has been staying with friends in London all week, only meeting some of his team-mates for the first time shortly before the start of the game against Essex.
Set a target off 177 to win Somerset scrambled home when Max Waller and Lewis Gregory scampered a single off the very last ball of the game bowled by Ravi Bopara. However the victory had been set up by West Indian Gayle who had struck eight 4s and six 6s in a spectacular knock that accounted for over half the required runs needed.
Earlier Somerset captain Alfonso Thomas won the toss and asked Essex to bat and the home team responded in positive fashion with Jesse Ryder and Tom Westley taking the attack to the away team’s bowlers. With the score on 90 after only eight overs Thomas threw the ball to another Somerset new boy, Jim Allenby, who had been Somerset’s star man with the bat in their only other t20 game so far, scoring 79 in a narrow defeat v Sussex. He made an immediate impact by removing Ryder lbw for 54 with his first ball.
At the half way stage Essex had passed the three-figure mark at 102 for 1 when Allenby struck twice in quick succession to change the tempo of the game. First he bowled Bopara for just 4 and Kishen Velani followed three balls later nailed leg before wicket without scoring. At this stage Allenby had figures of 3 wickets for 5 runs.
Somerset’s bowlers were now bowling much tighter. Essex captain Ryan ten Doeschate (14) and keeper James Foster (16) both made starts but were stopped in their tracks as the emphasis swung to the visitors. The home innings closed in spectacular style with Thomas taking three wickets in the final over and Essex were 176 all out. Westley had top scored with 68 off 56 balls.
Thomas enjoyed figures of 4 for 37 in his four overs. This was significant because Alfi became only the fourth bowler in world cricket to take more than 250 t20 wickets. Two of the others have Somerset connections too, Dirk Nannes and Yasir Arafat, who both had brief spells at Taunton, with Sri Lanka`s Lasith Malinga making up the quartet.
Allenby finished with 3 for 10 from three overs and it was perhaps a surprise he didn’t finish his quota given the success he had.
Somerset’s response started cautiously with Gayle batting very apprehensively initially with only five runs off scored from the first two overs. In the third club captain Marcus Trescothick slammed three boundaries off Reece Topley to create some excitement but David Masters was keeping it tight at the other end. Gayle had scored just six singles off his first 18 balls faced, not quite the fireworks the spectators expected.
Trescothick (20) went with the score on 26 followed by Peter Trego (7) before 50 had been scored. James Hildreth (18) and Allenby (19) made contributions in support of Gayle and when Jim departed on 159 for 4 off 17.4 overs the game looked to be won.
Gayle was well into his stride by now. His first boundaries came in consecutive deliveries, the last two of the sixth over bowled by Masters. His first sixes were the last two balls of the tenth over bowled by Westley and he passed his 50 when he put Bopara into the stand for his third maximum.
In all Gayle lasted 59 deliveries in 75 minutes before he was out c Bopara b Topley for 92 with the total on 164 and Somerset needing 13 from 10 balls. Game over? Not quite!
Tom Cooper hit a six with his first ball before being run out off his second and it came down to the last over with Somerset needing five runs. Sohail Tanvir then departed, with Topley this time the catcher off Bopara’s bowling so five were now needed from five.
It was perhaps also a surprise that Waller strode to the crease to join Gregory ahead of the big-hitting Jamie Overton with the thought being that Max was a little more mobile for quick singles? If so it worked and the two saw Somerset home but only after a run out scare.
So Somerset have their first win after two games and fans will get the chance to see Gayle on home soil for the first time on Sunday afternoon when Kent are the visitors.
Essex have just one victory from five and are marooned at the bottom of the southern table. Their next game is at the Oval next Friday.