No leaving from Chris Gayle as Abu Dhabi plunder runs on T10 opening night

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Gayle and Paul Stirling smash 97 in five overs together as Team Abu Dhabi get off to a flyer

Judging by the way Gayle helped to get Team Abu Dhabi’s campaign off to a flyer on Friday evening at the Zayed Cricket Ground, he seems a man who, even at the age of 42, still has more than enough in his armoury to destroy bowling attacks around the world, regardless of the format of the game or the colour that he wears.
Alongside Paul Stirling, in the bright yellow of Team Abu Dhabi, the pair of them shone and added a remarkable 97 runs in just five overs, taking much of the Bangla Tigers attack to the cleaners and in doing so, taking the game away from Faf du Plessis’ side in quite brutal fashion.
Stirling ended with 59 off 23, including six fours and five sixes, whilst Gayle finished unbeaten on 49 off 23, with five sixes of his own. Their combined tally was more than Bangla Tigers could manage in their entire innings. It was an exhibition of explosive and ferocious six-hitting for the Abu Dhabi crowd that earlier got to witness Delhi Bulls defeat the defending champions, Northern Warriors.

“It’s a great way to start from a team point of view,” Gayle said. “All of the guys played their part, Stirling batted well, [Marchant] de Lange with the ball, the captain with the ball as well – everyone played their part.

“Stirlo was fantastic and we were just having fun out there. He executed well today and I think he’ll love this wicket and score a lot of runs on this wicket.”

On his own performance, Gayle added: “It’s good to be in the runs and hopefully it can continue tomorrow.”

The numbers alone spoke of carnage. Sixty runs came in the space of the fifth and sixth overs. Spare a thought for Sabir Rao who was smashed for 29 in an over and Qais Ahmed, dispatched for 31 in the next. Neither of them returned to the attack. Such is the brutality of this format, no bowler is permitted more than two overs and the last thing that du Plessis would have thought about doing would be to give Gayle and Stirling another sniff.

At the end of the sixth over, the Abu Dhabi score was a ludicrous 112 for 2 and a third of the deliveries had gone the distance: 12 sixes in 36 deliveries.

For all the talk about the importance of a toss (both sides that won the toss chose to field on opening night), given the numbers in the T20 World Cup which highlighted the value of chasing, this Team Abu Dhabi batting order will strike fear into opposition, regardless of whether they bat first or second.

Captain Liam Livingstone said in the build-up that it was about “trying to hit as many sixes as we can” and that is exactly what they did. Each of the first four batters hit at least one six and finished with a strike rate of 200-plus.

Phil Salt pulled his second delivery over the midwicket fence, before getting run out off the next. And Livingstone himself thumped James Faulkner for two consecutive maximums before getting bowled by the Australian. The skipper’s dismissal simply welcomed the “Universe Boss” to the crease, who alongside Stirling wreaked havoc.

Rao was clobbered around the ground, as Gayle hammered, pulled and smeared him for three sixes in his first four legitimate deliveries. He returned with a brilliant yorker that went for a bye, only for Stirling to add to the pain by dispatching a slower delivery next ball for six more. For Rao, his first ever T10 appearance was one he’ll want to forget.

As if that wasn’t enough. Stirling added three more sixes in the next over, hammering a length delivery, flicking away a full toss, before gracefully getting down on one knee and sending one sailing over long-on. It was raining sixes in Abu Dhabi.

By the time Stirling was dismissed, the damage was already done. Despite managing to restrict Team Abu Dhabi to 145 for 4, given the start they had, the task was always going to be an uphill one for Tigers.

Livingstone also emphasised the need to “take as many wickets as possible” to try and stem the flow of runs in this format and in Marchant de Lange, he had just the man. When Sheldon Cottrell’s opening over was blasted for 18 by Andre Fletcher, Tigers had got off to a belter – only for de Lange to bowl both du Plessis and Fletcher in the next. The South African finished off the job with only the second five-for in Abu Dhabi T10 history as he ripped through the Tigers middle order.

“It was phenomenal to watch. We back ourselves to hit sixes and thanks to Chris and Paul, we probably got 20 or 30 more than par,” Livingstone said.

For Fletcher, it was an all too familiar story seeing his fellow West Indian take the game to to the Tigers. “As we’ve got to know with Gayle, it’s do or die.” Friday night in the desert belonged to Team Abu Dhabi.

(With Inputs from ESPN)

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