Watson and water thwart Windies as Australia surges into Super Eights
Australia won a dramatic World Twenty20 match against the West Indies under the Duckworth-Lewis system on Saturday night, but monsoonal rain was not the only force of nature to hit Colombo.
The first was Chris Gayle, whose destructive yet seemingly effortless 54 from 33 balls brought the tournament alive and set the West Indies on course for a formidable total of 8-191. The second was Shane Watson, who for the second game in a row was the dominant figure on Premadasa Stadium.
Man of the match ... Shane Watson hits a six. Photo: Getty Images
He dropped Gayle on four, redeemed himself with the wicket of the world's most explosive batsman, then produced up a whirlwind innings of his own to ensure Australia won by 17 runs under the formula for deciding rain-affected matches.
Watson was unbeaten on 41 from 24 balls when the rain came, and Australia was 1-100 from 9.1 overs.
This was well ahead of the par score of 1-83 needed under Duckworth-Lewis, assuring Australia of a place in the Super Eights.
Mitchell Starc after dismissing Dwayne Smith. Photo: AFP
The West Indies, one of the teams favoured to win the event, have to beat Ireland on Monday to progress.
The Australian chase was brief but action-packed. David Warner got the team off to a flying start, muscling 22 runs from Ravi Rampaul's first over. The next over he was given out caught behind, driving lavishly at Fidel Edwards, but fumed about the decision and looked back at umpire Asad Rauf as he left the crease.
Sunil Narine, the exciting off-spinner, came into the attack but that brought only brief respite for the West Indies. In his second over he bowled a front foot no ball, presenting Watson with a free hit, which the Australian vice-captain took as an invitation to slog-sweep for six.
Dwayne Smith appeared to be momentarily blinded on the square leg boundary where he dropped a simple catch when Watson was on 28, tipping the ball over the rope for six, then watched the next ball sizzle past him for four.
The sub-plot involving Watson and Gayle was the most compelling aspect of the match.
Gayle made Watson pay for dropping a difficult catch when he was on four, a life that seemed to spark him into action.
Mitchell Starc seduced Gayle into a wild swing in the fourth over. Watson ran in from third man, hesitated, lunged forward and grassed the catch.
Later, just after Gayle reached his half-century, Watson had him caught and bowled from a thick leading edge.
The Australian clenched his fists and roared but fortunately did not indulge in an in-your-face celebration of the sort that cost him a fine in Perth three summers ago. The West Indies were 3-93 in the 11th over when Gayle was dismissed and, although the scoring rate slowed for a while, there was ultimately little respite for the bowlers.
Marlon Samuels, with a supremely-timed 50 from 32 balls, and Dwayne Bravo capitalised on some poor bowling.
Before the game, the Australian quicks were given express permission to target the helmets of the West Indies' batsmen, a tactic designed to force them to test the wide boundaries instead of hitting long and straight. It didn't work out as Australia had hoped.
Watson did strike Gayle on the helmet in the first over of the match but that was because he ducked into a ball that didn't get up off the pitch, and headed it for four leg byes.
Another highlight was Gayle's contest with Australia's emerging pace star Pat Cummins. Cummins was too quick for Johnson Charles, who couldn't hit the swinging ball, but Gayle was a class above. He hammered three fours and a six from one over and was wise to Cummins' slower bouncer.
Glenn Maxwell's solitary over also went for 17 runs.
Starc collected 3-35 and produced the ball of the match, a perfect inswinger crashed into Smith's stumps in the second over. He also deserved to take some of the credit for Gayle's dismissal, building pressure with a tight over before Watson was brought back into the attack.