Chris Gayle marked his return to Taunton with a typically flamboyant innings as Somerset came out on top against Essex Eagles in the NatWest T20 Blast.
After missing out at Hove on Wednesday, Gayle struck 49 off 23 balls to leave the visitors nursing a seven wicket defeat – their second of the season.
Gayle, who lit up the West Country last year with 328 runs in his three NatWest T20 Blast games was at it again as Somerset chased down 179 inside 18 overs. He struck five fours and four sixes in a 23-ball knock that laid the foundation for a comfortable Somerset win.
Having invited Essex to bat, Somerset made an encouraging start when Jesse Ryder edged a rising delivery from Craig Overton to wicket keeper Ryan Davies. Dan Lawrence made 22 before Max Waller held on to a sharp chance at backward point at 54 for 2 and Ravi Bopara followed at 67 for 3, caught on the long off boundary by Mahela Jayawardene for eight.
Having been pegged back between overs six and 11, Essex re-established themselves thanks to a 24 run stand between Tom Westley and Ryan Ten Doeschate and 74, for the fifth wicket, between the free hitting Ten Doeschate (47) and Ashar Zaidi. The former was eventually caught by Waller, on the cover boundary, off the bowling of Jamie Overton at 165 for 6 before Zaidi departed off the very next ball, caught at deep backward square for 31 off just 17 balls. He struck two fours and as many sixes. Ten Doeschate hit five fours and one six.
Essex finally reached 178 for 7 off their 20 overs with Lewis Gregory the pick of the Somerset bowlers with 2-25 off four overs.
Somerset made a surprisingly modest start with a dozen runs coming from the first two overs. However, after Gayle chipped Matt Quinn over mid wicket for four in the third over the West Indian star began to play with a familiar freedom. He struck two fours and three sixes off David Masters’ second over and a six off Quinn that carried well over 100 yards into the car park.
Sadly, for the 7000 Somerset supporters who had enjoyed the experience, Gayle eventually chipped a half volley to Lawrence off Wahab Riaz, at 75 for 1 in the seventh over. With Gayle departed, captain Jim Allenby and Peter Trego took up the challenge and progressed well, adding 47 for the second wicket before the latter was caught on the long on boundary for 34.
Jayawardene scored six before Masters found a way through his normally impeccable defence at 129 for 3. However, Gregory changed the game in the 15th over with two fours and a six off Masters who finished with the unfortunate figures of 1-54 off four overs. In the end an unbeaten fourth wicket stand of 52 saw Somerset home with 13 balls to spare.
After smashing his way to 49 off just 23 balls Chris Gayle said: “It’s great to be back in Taunton and tonight’s win was a great team effort. In the first two games we didn’t get the results we wanted, so to actually get a win tonight was fantastic and hopefully we can use it to get some momentum going into the next game.
“We bowled fantastically well and they all chipped in well, so credit must go to the bowlers and the guys in the field did well too. Then, to finish it off with the bat we couldn’t have asked for a better display of cricket today and we are looking to take momentum from this.
“It was difficult to say what par was but anything over 180 would give you a chance to win the game. Varying your bowlers was always going to be the key and we did that well. We got off to a good start as well and set it up for the middle order to come in and people could play their natural game and get a win.
“My form is a bit in patches at the moment and is a bit up and down, but when I get the chance to score a few like I did tonight and put the team in a winning position, that is what is more important.
“The crowd and the cheer was fantastic and I just love it here so it’s great to be back here at Taunton. They made me feel so welcome and I want to smash sixes which is what I did today.”