CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- An awe-struck crowd had no doubt they were witnessing something special when West Indies opener Chris Gayle slogged two consecutive sixes into the grandstands.
Those were balls No. 73 and 74 he faced, and there was much, much more to come.
The 35-year-old Gayle, who hadn't scored a one-day international century since mid-2013, had clearly regained his confidence and form and was on his way into the history books.
His extraordinary 16 sixes is a record for an ODI equaled only by South Africa captain AB de Villiers and India's Rohit Sharma. Gayle's career-high 215 was a World Cup record -- surpassing Gary Kirsten's 188 at the 1996 tournament -- and his 372-run partnership -- from 318 balls -- with Marlon Samuels was a record in limited-overs internationals.
Gayle's first six came during the 11th over when he had overcome a scratchy start, including a lucky reprieve on the first ball he faced when he was hit on the pads and survived a review for lbw from the third umpire.
His opening partner Dwayne Smith had been out for a duck on a second ball of the innings and it seemed, two balls later, that the West Indies top order was again going to struggle as it had in the first two matches of the World Cup.
But this time, luck was on Gayle's side. His second six came on the 47th ball, and was quickly followed by two more. But Gayle was just warming up.
He hit a 6,4,6,4 from consecutive balls, rocketing from his previous highest score of 151 to 171 and lifting the West Indies to 279.
The next over, Gayle belted three sixes in a row. The near panic of Zimbabwe bowler Sean Williams was evident on his face as Gayle became more focused on lifting his run rate.
The spell-bound crowd seemed oblivious to the light drizzling rain that made the daunting task for the Zimbabwe spin bowlers all the more difficult against Gayle.
The West Indies opener later revealed his relief at surviving the early LBW decision, when the when third umpire decided that on TV review the ball may have narrowly passed over the stumps.
"I didn't want to be out with the first ball. I said: 'you can't be serious,'" he said. "I just want to thank God for this knock. I was under pressure to score runs, and I kept getting messages from twitter and on my cell phone.
"I have never felt this kind of pressure, but in the end, I am sure I gave them something to talk about."