Colombo: Chris Gayle is probably the only batsman to have mastered the art of pacing a Twenty20 innings, and it's he who stands between Australia and their second shot to win the only trophy Cricket Australia cabinet doesn't boast of - the ICC World Twenty20.
Australia - who are the only unbeaten team in this edition - take on the West Indies in the second semi-final on Friday, for a place in the final against hosts Sri Lanka who beat Pakistan in the first semi-final.
Whether West Indies bat first or second, Australia's biggest chance of restricting the men from the Caribbean lies in how quickly they get rid of Gayle, especially because the Windies' meaty middle order hasn't really set the tournament on fire. And though the big-hitting prowess of Marlon Samuels, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell can't be ignored, Australia captain George Bailey was quick to point out that getting Gayle early can do the trick.
"Their batting is no doubt their strength," Bailey said at the end of Australia's training session on Thursday. "If you can knock Gayle over early, it really does put pressure on the rest of their batsmen to step up."
That statement gains strength when we look at how West Indies fared with and without Gayle firing in this tournament. While Gayle's 54 lifted West Indies to 191 against Australia, his stroke-filled 58 in a 103-run opening partnership with Johnson Charles set up a 15-run win over defending champions England. However, the roof collapsed when he failed against Sri Lanka. West Indies were hammered in that match by nine wickets after crumbling for a paltry 129.
But West Indies skipper Darren Sammy doesn't agree with Bailey.
"It's not only about Chris [Gayle]," said Sammy. "Obviously he sets the momentum for us at the top of the order. But to win the game, it will need a total team effort. In any cricket match, you get one individual doing something brilliant. But it will take a collective effort to win the semi-final."