In 135 years of Test cricket nobody batting at number 11 has made a century. They still haven't. But Tino Best, hitherto mildly celebrated for being the object of a classic sledge, came desperately, joyously, heart-breakingly close in two breathtaking hours of the Third Test yesterday.
With the match seemingly going nowhere, Best, a fast bowler by trade who has not played for West Indies in a Test match for three years, illuminated the fourth day by scoring 95 from 112 balls. He deserved a hundred, he had earned one with a bravura display of counter-attacking which was huge fun and utterly nerveless – until, that is, the last moments. Best and Denesh Ramdin put on 143 runs, the third highest for the 10th wicket in Tests and the highest in England, and took their team's total to 426 – that after being put in.
It was joined in the afternoon by another landmark for the crassest piece of umpiring in this country and possibly in the world in the last 135 years. With England in a dominant mode by then as Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen fashioned a recovery on a perfectly amenable day with the floodlights on, the umpires halted play because of bad light. True, the sun was not cracking the flags but it was England in June and looking it.
Had there been any sort of crowd, it might have turned nasty. As it was, a few boos sufficed until the teams returned, after the loss of an hour, with no discernible improvement. Indeed, it might have been darker than 15 minutes earlier.
England lost two late wickets after shedding three early ones. Pietersen was out pushing an off-break to slip and Jonny Bairstow failed yet again, playing across the line. At 221 for 5, England are still short of the follow-on mark by 55 runs. They do not look anywhere near their peak at present.
The umpires overlooked the most important Law of Cricket, number 43 (common sense), and were left looking foolish. This match had already lost two days to rain when it really was impossible to play. Such nonsense could not expunge the delightful memory of Best.
There might have been a minuscule audience to watch – confirming that you should never take your eyes off Test cricket – but the innings was ringing round the world, courtesy of modern communications methods, by the time Best entered the nineties. No No 11 before had been in such territory.
He betrayed his anxiety by dashing down the pitch for a single against Graham Onions. Sent back by his partner, Ramdin, who had already made a hundred and rather spoiled the moment, Best slumped to his knees as if to cajole himself of what was at stake.
Then he swished at his next ball, only to find that it was on him much slower than expected. Instead of being drilled forwards it went backwards and Andrew Strauss, England's captain, who must have been wondering what on earth he could do to bring an end to the tourists' innings, ran from slip to pouch the catch.
"Mind the windows, Tino," Andrew Flintoff said to Best on his last innings in England eight years ago when the batsman was essaying some booming but ill-advised drives. Thus encouraged, he charged down the pitch, missed the ball and was stumped by a country mile.
He did not miss many balls yesterday and from the moment he propelled his ninth for four with a lofted off drive and held the shot for all to admire he was irrepressible.
What made this interlude such a pleasure – apart from the statistical feast – was that Best so clearly enjoyed it. He chortled his way through the morning, which is not something that could be said of England's bowlers. When they took West Indies' ninth wicket with the third ball of the day it was pretty obvious that they would be batting within half an hour at the outside.
Best batted on and on. There was the odd agricultural heave but his cover drives, properly designed and executed, will leave the lasting impression. The highest score by a No 11 before this was Zaheer Khan's 75 for India against Bangladesh in 2004, the highest in England, John Snow's 59 not out, against West Indies in 1966. No No 11 had scored so much as a fifty against England for more than a century.
Ramdin was quite content to play the junior role, though he was no less enterprising. His innings was compact and well-ordered and it was a pity that he chose to mark it by unfurling from his pocket a scrawled note addressed to one of the greatest batsmen who ever played, Sir Vivian Richards.
In his role as pundit, Richards had made mild criticism of Ramdin for his occasionally shoddy wicketkeeping in the last Test in Nottingham (it was) and for failing to reach 50 in 14 innings (also true). Instead of basking in adulation, Ramdin effectively told Richards to shut up. As many before him found out, it was never wise to sledge Viv.
England's part in all this was confused. They looked short of vigour and ideas, some of their field placings were awry and they were out of sorts. When they started to leave the field for lunch, with the West Indies nine down, they overlooked the change in regulation which entails an extra half-hour in such positions. It looked unprepared.
This has been a tougher series for England than the bare results might indicate and this session was a particularly poor advertisement for their rotation policy. They did not bowl badly, indeed Onions mostly bowled well, but the fact is that Jimmy Anderson, especially, and Stuart Broad were missed.
It was inevitable that there would be early wickets. So there were as Alastair Cook was lbw, Jonathan Trott played on and Strauss was brilliantly caught at slip. Pietersen and Bell swiftly established their authority and dealt with the new mystery spinner, Sunil Narine, in such dismissive fashion as to leave observers wondering what all the fuss was about. Welcome to Test cricket.
Timeline: How Day Four unfolded
11.00am Wicket. West Indies 283-9, Rampaul 2
England strike early on; Finn bowls on a good length and Rampaul nibbles the ball behind for wicketkeeper Prior to complete a comfortable catch.
11.50am Half-century. West Indies 342-9, Best 50
Quite an achievement. Best, exuding dexterity and defiance, scores a single to bring up a half-century, the first No 11 to post a Test fifty against England since 1906.
12.39pm Century. West Indies 393-9, Ramdin 100
Ton up and time for a rebuttal; Ramdin, whom Sir Viv Richards criticised, pulls out a piece of paper in full view of the media centre, which reads: "YEA VIV TALK NAH"
12.48pm Record. West Indies 407-9
Best continues to impress. His four over gully moves his score on to 76, before he hits a huge six back over Bresnan's head. He's eventually out for 95 as the visitors finish on 426.
2.20pm Wicket. England 13-1, Cook 4
A mini-collapse ensues. Rampaul dismisses Cook leg-before after a review is called in vain. Trott plays on before skipper Strauss is caught by Bravo. England are 49-3.
5.26pm Half-centuries. England 151-3, KP 55, Bell 50
The hosts recover valiantly. Bell glances to long leg to bring up his fifty before Pietersen follows suit by hitting Best through midwicket. The pair's partnership reaches 100.
6.34pm Wicket. England 186-4, Pietersen 78
Following a second bad light delay, KP's fine knock ends as Sammy catches him at slip, before Bairstow's bowled cheaply by Best just after 7pm.
Edgbaston (Third/Fourth day of five): England are trailing West Indies by 212 runs with 6 first-innings wickets in hand
England won toss
WEST INDIES — First Innings
A B Barath lbw b Onions 41
106 balls 1 sixes 4 fours
K O A Powell c Swann b Bresnan 24
43 balls 0 sixes 2 fours
A B Fudadin c Bell b Bresnan 28
110 balls 0 sixes 4 fours
D M Bravo c & b Finn 6
16 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
M N Samuels lbw b Bresnan 76
114 balls 1 sixes 10 fours
N Deonarine c Strauss b Onions 7
29 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
†D Ramdin not out 107
183 balls 0 sixes 9 fours
*D J G Sammy c Strauss b Finn 16
35 balls 0 sixes 2 fours
S P Narine b Onions 11
17 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
R Rampaul c Prior b Finn 2
12 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
T L Best c Strauss b Onions 95
112 balls 1 sixes 14 fours
Extras (b4 lb8 w1) 13
Total (129.3 overs) 426
Fall: 1-49, 2-90, 3-99, 4-128, 5-152, 6-208, 7-241, 8-267, 9-283.
Bowler Spells: G Onions: 24-7-56-3 (4-0-6-0; 4-1-11-0; 5-2-9-1; 5-2-6-1; 3-1-15-0; 3-1-9-1), TT Bresnan: 26-8-74-3 (4-1-8-0; 2-1-6-1; 3-1-12-0; 7-1-18-1; 2-2-0-0; 2-0-2-1; 6-2-28-0), ST Finn: 22-6-65-2 (1wd) (8-2-24-0; 6-4-8-1; 2-0-15-0; 6-0-18-1), GP Swann: 21-5-61-0 (4-1-13-0; 13-4-37-0; 4-0-11-0), IJL Trott: 5-1-16-0 (5-1-16-0)
ENGLAND — First Innings
*A J Strauss c Bravo b Best 17
45 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
A N Cook lbw b Rampaul 4
8 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
I J L Trott b Sammy 17
23 balls 0 sixes 3 fours
K P Pietersen c Sammy b Samuels 78
81 balls 1 sixes 11 fours
I R Bell not out 71
129 balls 0 sixes 10 fours
J M Bairstow not out 18
34 balls 0 sixes 3 fours
Extras (b1 lb6 nb2) 9
Total (for 4, 53 overs) 214
Fall: 1-13, 2-40, 3-49, 4-186.
To Bat: †M J Prior, T T Bresnan, G P Swann, S T Finn, G Onions.
Bowling: T L Best 12-2-39-1, R Rampaul 14-1-55-1, D J G Sammy 7-1-18-1, S P Narine 13-1-68-0, M N Samuels 7-0-27-1.
Umpires: HDPK Dharmasena (Sri Lanka) & AL Hill (New Zealand)
3rd Umpire: Aleem Dar (Pakistan)
Match Referee: RS Mahanama (Sri Lanka)
Test Progress: Day Three: West Indies 50 in 17.6 overs, Lunch: 85-1 in 29 overs (Barath 40, Fudadin 15), 100 in 39.2 overs, 150 in 61.4 overs, Samuels 50 off 76 balls (6 fours, 1 six), Tea: 164-5 in 65 overs (Samuels 50, Ramdin 1), 200 in 76.2 overs, 250 in 89.5 overs, 250 in 89.5 overs, Ramdin 50 off 97 balls (6 fours), Close: 280-8 in 98 overs (Ramdin 60, Rampaul 2).