EVEN MUHAMMAD Ali was modest compared to Chris Gayle.
Prior to this series, the man who calls himself the ‘Universe Boss’ unleashed a flurry of verbal punches.
“You’re looking at a great man,” the West Indian batsman told reporters. “I’m the greatest player in the world.
“England fans love to see the ‘Universe Boss’ exploding and entertaining you guys as much as possible.”
In the early stages of this opening one-day international in Barbados, which England won by six wickets, it looked as if the ‘Universe Boss’ had lost his stardust.
It was more like ‘Universe Dross’, if you pardon the term, as the maestro proceeded at funereal pace, scoring only 12 in the first 14 overs after the hosts won the toss on a true batting pitch.
Gayle looked utterly out of touch, his lack of rhythm evident when he aimed a horrible hack at Liam Plunkett and was dropped on nine by Jason Roy running round from point to the cover region.
But then he suddenly dispensed some ‘Universe Gloss’, capitalising on that let-off to lash 135 from 129 balls with 12 sixes and three fours, leading West Indies to 360-8 from their 50 overs – their highest total in a home ODI.
After his dropped catch, a dolly by Roy’s exalted standards, the Surrey man needed to score 126 to make up the difference.
He so nearly did it, thrashing 123 from 85 balls with 15 fours and three sixes, his seventh ODI hundred setting up a win that confirmed England as the ‘Universe Boss’ of 50-over cricket. With Joe Root contributing 102 from 97 balls, the silkiest background hundred one could wish to see, his 14th in ODI cricket, and Eoin Morgan adding 65 from 51, England achieved their highest successful ODI chase, rising to the challenge in a fashion worthy of World Cup favourites.
Morgan picked out mid-off and Root holed out on the leg-side rope, but Stokes saw them home with eight balls to spare.
On a day when England left out Yorkshire’s David Willey in preference to Mark Wood, the initial stardust was provided by Gayle’s opening partner John Campbell, striking a rapid 30 on his ODI debut. Wood was the pick of the bowlers early on, but Gayle and Shai Hope checked England in a second-wicket stand of 131 inside 22 overs. After his slow start, Gayle got going with a straight six off Moeen Ali that took him above Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi and on to 477 as the man with the most sixes in international cricket.
Moeen was quickly clobbered for another couple by the brilliant left-hander, who then twice deposited Plunkett far over mid-wicket.
Hope holed out to third-man for 64 from 65 balls, Shimron Hetmyer contributing 20 from 15 before Nicholas Pooran failed to trouble the scorers on his ODI debut, caught at long-off off the Yorkshire leg-spinner Adil Rashid, kept out of the firing line until over 34.
Rashid took two more wickets, but Stokes was the standout bowler, returning 3-37 from eight.
Nine of the West Indies’ 23 sixes (an ODI record) were conceded by Moeen, including four in his last over. Several times the ball flew out of the ground.
After reaching his fifty from 76 balls Gayle needed only 24 more for his hundred. He offered one further chance on 124, skying Rashid to mid-wicket where Chris Woakes, running in, could not cling on.
When England replied the West Indies’ slow start was put into context as Roy and Jonny Bairstow thumped 88 in the 10-over powerplay. Roy’s 30-ball fifty included seven fours and a mid-wicket six off Devendra Bishoo, while Bairstow hit 34 off 33 with six fours before edging behind.
Roy needed only 35 more balls for his hundred, reached with a straight six off spinner Ashley Nurse.
He celebrated by launching the same man for six over cover, the cheers of the large English support ringing in his ears.
Roy ran out of steam towards the end; he was badly dropped on 107 by Poonan at deep mid-wicket off Bishoo, who then had him spilled by Bravo at point before that pair did combine when Roy sliced to short third-man.
Root, with whom Roy added 114 in 17, was dropped on 46 at point off Oshane Thomas and on 62 at third-man off Holder, Nurse the culprit on both occasions.
Such catches simply had to be taken, but the West Indies, for whom key bowler Kemar Roach has a back injury, were ruthlessly exposed.
Not even the ‘Universe Boss’ could upstage Morgan’s England.