Gayle’s fifty in his 400th T20 in vain as AB de Villiers and Tom Curran stun Jozi Stars

South Africa

Tshwane Spartans 155 for 6 (de Villiers 53, van Biljon 45, Christian 2-30) beat Jozi Stars 135 (Gayle 54, Morkel 3-21, Curran 3-30) by 20 runs

A Chris Gayle fifty. An AB de Villiers fifty. Thirty-five boundaries in total. But none during the last five overs of a simple enough chase.

Rarely is a low-scoring T20 packed so full of batting highlights – and lowlights – but that’s how Jozi Stars and Tshwane Spartans rolled at the Bull Ring with the hosts falling utterly and inexplicably short. The defending champions are still winless after six games this season.

A(B) throwback

The Spartans finished the powerplay at 30 for 2 but somehow it didn’t seem to affect de Villiers. Though it is now over a year since he retired from international cricket, his instincts are as sharp as ever. They told him that his team’s best chance of winning was if he lasted the full 20 overs. So after starting his innings with a ridiculously cool cut for four, he throttled down, content to enter the 17th over with a score of 24 and a strike rate of 114.

Then came a slower ball. The Stars indulged in a lot of them as the innings wore on, hitting the deck to make them hold up on the batsman. No doubt that was Duanne Olivier’s intention here as well but de Villiers held his shape that extra second longer and nearly took out the umpire with a pull shot straight down the ground. He reached his fifty with a strike-rate of 166.

Throwback Part II

Gayle was still on 10 when he had already survived two run-out chances and a caught-and-bowled attempt. Now you know it’s your day if Morne Morkel’s hands aren’t long enough to reach the ball and it proved to be just so.

The Spartans tried their best to limit the damage, bowling at the left-hander’s body and trying to beat him for pace. But the same reason that plan works – Gayle is 40 and his reflexes aren’t what they used to be – contributed to its downfall as well. Gayle knew what was coming – you learn these kinds of things playing 400 T20 games – and soon set up expecting the bouncer. Lungi Ngidi was pulled to the boundary twice in the same over. He was also clattered for six down the ground when he tried to hit a fuller length. Gayle had found his rhythm; no other batsman goes from 11 off 13 to 50 off 25 quite like him.

Stars ended their Powerplay 65 for 2 and should have cruised the rest of the way to victory.

The spanner in the works

Tom Curran is a bank in T20s and he didn’t take too long to show it. Opening the bowling for the Spartans, he produced a back of the hand slower ball that was just unreal. It deceived opener Reeza Hendricks, slipping through the gap between his bat and pad, and for a tiny moment seemed to have bounced over the stumps. Curran certainly thought so, his hands going up to his head, but a split second later they unfurled in triumph. The bail over the off stump was on the ground. It didn’t seem like the ball made any contact with it, but it had been disturbed. Perhaps mere proximity was enough like how a rowdy classroom goes quiet seeing the teacher coming closer.

The England allrounder took 3 for 30 and his success inspired the rest of his team to trust in taking pace off the ball. Heinrich Klaasen, the Spartans captain, actually turned to a left-arm spinner in the final five overs and it paid off as Roelof van der Merwe helped create three wickets.

The Stars needed 33 runs from 36 balls with six wickets in hand to win this game. That they didn’t is unbelievable. That they were bowled out is bonkers.

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