Chris Gayle smashed a blistering century to fire the West Indies into the Champions Trophy final with a six-wicket win over a hapless South Africa on Thursday.
The 27-year-old opener hammered an unbeaten 133 in a stunning display of aggressive batting as the West Indies made a mockery of South Africa's challenging total of 258-8 to win the semi-final with six overs to spare.
Defending champions West Indies will clash with Australia in the final at Mumbai tomorrow.
Gayle reduced the day-night match to a no-contest with his breath-taking strokes on both sides of the wicket, hammering three sixes and 17 fours in a 135-ball knock for his 15th century in 150 one-day internationals.
"Once I get a start I always try to capitalize on it. I like challenges and this was a good one. This was definitely one of my better knocks," said Gayle, named man of the match.
Gayle received valuable support from Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who cracked a solid 57 before retiring hurt with cramp. They added 154 to ensure the West Indies keep their reputation intact of beating South Africa in big events.
The West Indies defeated South Africa in the 2003 World Cup and then in the Champions Trophy in England the following year. The defeats contributed to South Africa's failure to reach the semi-finals on both the occasions.
"He [Gayle] is an excellent batsman and a great influence on the guys. He takes everything seriously," said West Indies skipper Brian Lara. "The plan was not to lose early wickets since South Africa had gained the upper hand by taking early wickets in their other games."
South Africa earlier rode on the back of Herschelle Gibbs's impressive 77 to post their highest total in the tournament, but were later reduced to a state of helplessness by Gayle's pyrotechnics.
Fast bowlers had played crucial roles in South Africa's victories in the last two group matches against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, but looked clueless against left-handed openers Gayle and Chanderpaul.
Gayle treated the South African attack with sheer contempt, setting the trend with two fours in Shaun Pollock's opening over. Boundaries continued to come thick and fast as he raced his half-century off just 48 balls.
He became the first batsman to score three centuries, having made an unbeaten 104 against Bangladesh in the qualifying round and 101 against England in a group match. He is also the only batsman with more than 400 runs.
Chanderpaul matched his partner shot for shot in early stages as the West Indies plundered 100 in less than 17 overs. When he retired hurt, his team needed 105 more to win with all wickets in hand.
The West Indies never looked under pressure even after losing Ramnaresh Sarwan (27), Dwayne Bravo (15), Lara (nine) and Runako Morton (0) in the space of 48 runs.
Lara became the fourth batsman to hit 1,000 fours in one-day internationals after India's Sachin Tendulkar, Australian Adam Gilchrist and Sri Lankan Sanath Jayasuriya.
"It was hugely disappointing. I think we fell 20-25 runs short," said South African coach Mickey Arthur. "The West Indies never allowed us to settle down and kept scoring runs. We could not put pressure on them at any stage."
Earlier Gibbs, with 16 runs in the previous three matches, returned to form with a half-century after his team had elected to bat.
He added 92 for the fourth wicket with AB de Villiers (46) after South Africa had lost skipper Graeme Smith (19), Loots Bosman (39) and Jacques Kallis (16).
South Africa were steadied by Gibbs, playing his first tournament in India after being named in the 2000 match-fixing scandal. He had already skipped two tours to the country.
Gibbs adjusted himself remarkably well on a slow pitch, picking the right deliveries to punish during his 26th half-century. He struck one six and four boundaries before falling in the last over.
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