Kraigg Brathwaite’s grinding, marathon 160 hauled West Indies to within 96 runs of England’s first innings total with the tourists still entertaining the prospect of forcing victory going into the final day of the second Test at the Kensington Oval.
At stumps on the fourth day on Saturday, England were 40 without loss in their second innings, an overall lead of 136, after the home side were eventually dismissed after tea for 411 in reply to the visitors’ first innings effort of 507 for nine declared.
As with the drawn first Test a week earlier in Antigua when England went into the last day at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium ahead by 153 runs with nine wickets in hand, the possibilities of an outright result mean there will be a greater level of interest than for the preceding four days of generally tedious cricket.
Brathwaite, who was eventually bowled by Jack Leach, played throughout as he does best with the West Indies captain occupying the crease for ten minutes short of 12 hours during which he faced 489 deliveries and stroked 17 fours.
Leach, whose innings-leading tally of three wickets came at a cost of 118 runs off a phenomenal 69.5 overs, may yet be called upon in the final afternoon to take advantage of whatever assistance there may be for the spinners even though the left-arm slow bowler had to work long and hard for his successes over two days of play in the first innings.
He ended the West Indies effort after tea by trapping wicketkeeper-batsman Joshua da Silva leg-before and England’s opening pair of Alex Lees and Zak Crawley comfortably negotiated 15 overs to the close of play.
Saqib Mahmood, who was denied a first Test wicket on the third day when the delivery which bowled Jermaine Blackwood was determined to be a no-ball, finally tasted success in the first over after lunch and then added the scalp of Veerasammy Permaul in the final session for good measure.
“It wasn’t a massive celebration from me because I was looking to see where my front foot landed to make sure it wasn’t another no-ball,” said Mahmood in describing the moment when Jason Holder fell to him via a well-judged catch by fellow-debutant Matt Fisher at mid-on.
“It was just a feeling of relief more than anything else.”
– ‘Tired and sore’ –
While it may have been a draining couple of days for England, Mahmood reiterated that he and the other bowlers are ready for whatever is required on the final day.
“It will be good to have a crack at them tomorrow and eventually get 20 wickets to win this match,” he said.
“The body may be tired and sore but these are the days you play for when you get a chance at Test match cricket.”
On a surface playing slower and lower with every passing day, inhibiting both the bowlers and batsmen as far as playing attacking cricket, West Indies had plodded along through 34 overs in advancing their overnight total of 288 for four by another 63 runs in the morning session for the loss of nightwatchman Alzarri Joseph.
Having done his job late on the third day when he came in at the fall of Blackwood’s wicket for 102, Joseph continued to look comfortable at the crease in a fifth-wicket partnership with his captain which put on 52 runs.
With two half-centuries in Test cricket to his name, the fast bowler would have had his sights set on another useful innings but his ambition got the better of him midway through a session that was twice interrupted by light showers on a breezy, overcast morning.
Dan Lawrence, who contributed an attacking 91 to England’s batting effort on day one and got the wicket of Blackwood with his occasional leg-breaks on Friday, showed sharp reflexes and a safe pair of hands to take the catch a gully at his left shoulder as Joseph, on 19, sliced a forcing off-side shot off Ben Stokes.
It was the all-rounder’s second wicket of the innings.
Brathwaite, who hardly ever varies from his phlegmatic style of play, eventually fell before tea, one of three wickets lost in the session, undone by probably the best of the 419 balls bowled by Leach which turned sharply away from the right-hander’s defensive prod to clip the off-stump.