A Test match and series which had frequently been notable for sheer, mind-numbing tedium ended in high drama last night. For the second time in three weeks England were denied by a gallant West Indies rearguard action. At the last England needed just two wickets to win and draw level at 1-1, as they had needed only one in Antigua.
The tourists may feel they did enough to deserve better after their wonderful endeavours on the last day but the West Indies hung on grimly. Denesh Ramdin faced 87 balls in scoring 17 and was accompanied at the end by Fidel Edwards, the tailend Charlie hero of Antigua. The draw which was thus secured gave the West Indies their first authentic Test series win for six years, their first of any kind for five.
Relief and joy were intermingled among home supporters, the Queen's Park Oval was not full but it erupted, the tension released only when there was one ball to go. It was hardly the climax that the match deserved but in the end that hardly mattered. Once more, it showed Test cricket's endless possibilities. For the best part of four days it had been sleep inducing. Suddenly it was spine-tingling.
One side were desperate simply to draw and end the long period of famine. The other needed to win to take something from a long, traumatic winter. At stake titularly was the Wisden Trophy but in this climax there was much more.
West Indies had taken the lead in unexpected, bewilderingly spectacular fashion in Kingston and all they yearned for was to hang on to it. But as the line drew closer and their dreams began to take the shape of reality they were faltering.
Since that dreadful afternoon in Sabina Park, when they were bowled out for 51, England had made most of the running in a series they had been expected to win comfortably. The West Indies had come into the last match virtually opting for the draw by selecting only three bowlers and seven batsmen.
Andrew Strauss, England's captain, was drained in what amounted to defeat but made no excuses. ''I'm very proud of the way we played today, pretty dejected we weren't able to force a result. The second innings at Kingston ultimately cost us the series. It was a freakish situation where we played badly, were put under pressure and didn't handle it.
''We have got to be realistic enough to understand that it's those small margins that Test matches and Test series are won and lost in. We can't afford to be on the receiving end of those sort of sessions.''
At the last the West Indies had 66 overs to bat, 247 runs to win, which was largely academic. England had batted at a lick in the morning, Kevin Pietersen, leaving his imprint on the series, scored his 16th Test hundred from 88 balls, using the full panoply of Pietersen tricks and shot-making devices. Matthew Prior was barely less inventive against deliberately negative field placings.
Somehow England had to conjure up 10 second-innings wickets, something they had signally failed to do in the series. How they tried, how both teams tried.
England got the start they needed, their opponents beset by uncertainty. The first incision in the seventh over was spectacular. Lendl Simmons, opening the batting instead of the injured Chris Gayle edged low to slip where Paul Collingwood swooped to his right.
It was the sort of occurrence that can lift a side's spirits and six runs later England had a second. For some reason (fretfulness, misplaced confidence) Devon Smith essayed a slog sweep against Graeme Swann and was struck on the back leg. His request for a review of the decision was made more in hope than expectation.
Now for Ramnaresh Sarwan, man of the series but who had failed in the first innings. He began confidently and England's eagerness to be rid of him was reflected by a forlorn review of an lbw verdict. But soon they had their man. Swann produced a peach which took the edge and again Collingwood took a low catch, this time to his left.
In came Shivnarine Chanderpaul and England's cup would have overflowed with joy had his thick edge carried to slip. But it fell just short. But soon after tea, Chanderpaul was gone, palpably lbw to Swann and no review in the world, not even as used by these umpires in this series, could reprieve him. Nor did it.
Brendan Nash, another first innings centurion, was caught bang in front by one seaming from Anderson. As Strauss juggled his bowlers almost frenetically Ryan Hinds was caught off the first ball of a new Monty Panesar spell, again by Collingwood at slip.
In came Gayle, nursing his hamstring. For 42 balls he kept England at bay, with only one scoring shot. He survived leg before appeal after leg before appeal. It was a dangerous game and Panesar eventually had him, as the ball turned in and kept low, England's 22nd leg before verdict of the series from 56 wickets taken.
All to play for now but Ramdin was stoic. Anderson came back again, finding reverse swing and produced a beauty of full length which burst through Powell. There were just 20 balls left.
But Ramdin did not panic and more importantly nor did Edwards. There were six, seven, eight men round the bat as there had been similar numbers ringing the boundary in the morning. It was a nerve-shredding climax.
* Caroline Atkins and Claire Taylor each hit 69 to help England beat India by nine wickets at the North Sydney Oval yesterday to seal their place in the Super Six stage of the Women's World Cup.
Shot of the day
West Indies did not quite go through the motions as England batted. Fidel Edwards produced a searing yorker to Matt Prior shortly after he came in. He was down on it in a flash and angled it perfectly for a four to third man.
Ball of the day
The delivery from Graeme Swann drifted just enough, straightened and took the edge of Ramnaresh Sarwan's bat. It needed a smart catch but smart bowling preceded it to a man in prime form.
Moment of the day
For England to have the remotest hope of victory they needed inspiration. Paul Collingwood provided it with a stunning low catch to his right to send back Lendl Simmons.
Queen's Park Oval Scoreboard
Fifth and final day; England won toss
England – Second Innings
*A J Strauss c and b Gayle 14 25 min, 18 balls, 2 fours
A N Cook c Ramdin b Hinds (referral) 24 69 min, 38 balls, 1 four
O A Shah c Ramdin b Baker 1 4 min, 5 balls
K P Pietersen c sub (D J Bravo) b Edwards 102 170 min, 92 balls, 9 fours, 1 six
P D Collingwood c and b Hinds 9 28 min, 19 balls
†M J Prior b Baker 61 74 min, 49 balls, 8 fours
S C J Broad not out 13 27 min, 15 balls, 2 fours
Extras (b2, lb6, w1, nb4, pens0) 13
Total (for 6; dec, 201 min, 38.4 overs) 237
Fall: 1-26 (Strauss), 2-27 (Shah), 3-72 (Cook), 4-101 (Collingwood), 5-207 (Prior), 6-237 (Pietersen).
Did not bat: G P Swann, J M Anderson, Amjad Khan, M S Panesar.
Bowling: Edwards 11.4-1-67-1 (nb4,w1) (2-1-10-0 7-0-42-0 2.4-0-15-1), Baker 8-1-39-2 (5-1-21-1 3-0-18-1), Gayle 3-0-16-1, Hinds 8-0-57-2, Simmons 5-0-29-0, Nash 3-0-21-0 (one spell each).
Declaration during lunch.
West Indies – Second Innings
D S Smith lbw b Swann (referral) 17 45 min, 42 balls, 3 fours
L M P Simmons c Collingwood b Anderson 8 28 min, 12 balls, 2 fours
R R Sarwan c Collingwood b Swann 14 53 min, 31 balls, 3 fours
R O Hinds c Collingwood b Panesar 20 130 min, 94 balls, 2 fours
S Chanderpaul lbw b Swann (referral) 6 53 min, 51 balls
B P Nash lbw b Anderson 1 10 min, 12 balls
†D Ramdin not out 17 120 min, 87 balls, 2 fours
*C H Gayle lbw b Panesar 4 51 min, 42 balls, 1 four
D B Powell b Anderson 0 24 min, 18 balls
F H Edwards not out 1 14 min, 8 balls
Extras (b 17, lb 6, w 1, nb 2, pens 0) 26
Total (8 wkts, 268 mins, 65.5 overs) 114
Fall: 1-25 (Simmons), 2-31 (Smith), 3-58 (Sarwan).
To bat: L S Baker.
Bowling: Anderson 16-7-24-3 (5-1-15-1 6-3-6-1 3-2-2-0 2-1-1-1), Broad 5-3-9-0 (3-1-9-0 2-2-0-0), Swann 21-13-13-3 (3-0-3-1 13-9-6-2 4-3-4-0 1-1-0-0), Amjad Khan 4-0-11-0 (nb2,w1) (2-0-7-0 2-0-4-0), Panesar 19.5-9-34-2 (9-2-21-0 4-3-4-1 5-4-5-1 1.5-0-4-0).
Umpires: D J Harper (Aus) and R B Tiffin (Zim).
TV replay umpire: Aleem Dar.
Match referee: A G Hurst.
Kevin Pietersen hit the Test's seventh century; the record is eight, a draw between West Indies and South Africa in 2005.