Whirlwind Gayle strikes South Africa

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It has been an especially heartless start to the new year for Test cricket's bowlers.

While Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman battered Australia for 650 for 5 in the Fourth Test half a world away in Sydney, South Africa amassed 532 against the hapless West Indies, whose tall left-handed opener Chris Gayle responded with one of the game's fastest centuries at sunlit Newlands on the second day of the Third Test.

Gayle was 112 with the West Indies 178 for 1 after a day that yielded an unbeaten 122 for South African wicket-keeper Mark Boucher, two sixes and 52 fours in the 400 runs taken off the 90 overs.

Distinctly hindered by a heavily-strapped right thigh, the legacy of a torn hamstring that kept him out of the Second Test, Gayle still struck the ball with withering power, mostly off the back foot, raising his hundred from 79 balls.

The 24-year-old Jamaican entered the 90s from 62 balls but was then delayed by a maiden by Jacques Kallis. His third Test hundred followed 17 balls later, an unforgettable display a crowd of 18,000 rose to acclaim.

A remarkable flick into the crowd at square-leg and 19 fours meant he only had to run 18 of his runs.

No one has reached the mark faster than the 56 balls it took fellow West Indian Viv Richards, now chairman of selectors and watching Gayle's assault from the pavilion, against England in Antigua in 1984. But Gayle was on course to better Jack Gregory's 64 balls for Australia against South Africa in Johannesburg in 1926 in second place before his tempo slowed.

Daren Ganga's contribution to an opening stand of 126 was 17. When he was bowled by Andre Nel, Ramnaresh Sarwan continued the attack, gathering 39 from 43 balls while Gayle took a breather.

Boucher's 21 fours from 173 balls once more exposed the weakness of the West Indies bowling, which has now conceded three totals of over 500 and one over 600 in five Tests on their twin tour of Zimbabwe and South Africa.

When Shaun Pollock was caught behind off fast bowler Fidel Edwards in the day's second over, South Africa were 315 for 7.

The defining moment soon followed as Boucher was bowled by a no-ball from Edwards on 15. He made them pay for that error, sharing a partnership of 146 with Jacques Kallis who carried on his innings interrupted by a blow to the forearm on the first day from 23 to 73.