Tino Best and Denesh Ramdin's last-wicket heroics stunned England at Edgbaston, but were still powerless to permanently revive the rain-ravaged third Investec Test.
After a 143-run partnership between record-breaking number 11 Best (95) and Ramdin (107no) was cancelled out by Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell's own century stand, a draw looms tomorrow.
Once England's reply to West Indies' 426 was given substance by Pietersen (78) and Bell (76no) in a stumps total of 221 for five, this contest was headed down a blind alley.
There were nonetheless points of interest today, topped by Best's highest score in Test history for any number 11.
Pietersen will also have derived satisfaction at signing off in style for the next month - thanks to his retirement from limited-overs cricket - although not as much as if he had gone on to a near run-a-ball 21st Test century, which appeared his for the taking by the time he edged Marlon Samuels to slip.
His and Bell's innings were accomplished, and significant after England stumbled to 49 for three, but bordered on the mundane in comparison with what preceded them.
In a mesmerising and hugely entertaining morning session, Andrew Strauss' world number ones simply had no answer to Best and Ramdin.
The fast bowler, back in Test cricket after a three-year absence, hammered England morale with an exhibition of clean striking - and measured defence when necessary.
His carefree approach and unheralded skill entirely belied his batting position, and brought him 14 fours and a six from 112 balls.
Best dominated the first 50 runs of his stand with Ramdin, whose share was just eight runs.
By the time the pair had 100 between them, Ramdin had redressed the balance a little - on his way to a 160-ball hundred which contained nine boundaries and was followed by an equally notable gesture in celebration.
The wicketkeeper had clearly taken criticism from West Indies great Viv Richards to heart, and on reaching his century dug into his pocket to unfurl a hand-written message which read 'Yeah Viv Talk Nah'.
Best, by contrast, marked his partner's achievement by immediately smashing Tim Bresnan high over long-on for six.
It was the number 11 who had begun the remarkable turn of events by announcing himself with a series of resounding drives against Steven Finn and Graham Onions.
But his defence and effective avoidance of the short ball were sound too, and two forces for four off Graeme Swann also required impressive footwork.
England's prospects of pushing for an unlikely victory had nosedived from slim to non-existent.
Instead, the Windies could fleetingly just about hope for a consolation success in a series already lost - until Bell and Pietersen intervened with their partnership of 137.
Ravi Rampaul had Alastair Cook lbw pushing forward; Jonathan Trott edged Darren Sammy down on to off-stump, and Best had Strauss cutting the second ball of his second spell high to slip where Darren Bravo held a very good catch.
Bell was reprieved just before tea when Adrian Barath put him down on 20 at short-leg off Sunil Narine. But thereafter, he raced past Pietersen to his 50 - including five fours from 10 Rampaul deliveries at one stage.
When Finn began the day by making short work of Rampaul, caught behind in the first, it seemed England would surely wrap up the Windies innings quickly.
But Best had other ideas - and England came close to success only once, when Pietersen failed to hang on to a devilishly difficult chance at gully after Ramdin climbed into a short ball from Finn on 69 with the total on 326.
Best rubbed Zaheer Khan's 75 out of the record books, as the top score from a number 11, when he cut Bresnan high over gully for four.
It seemed things could hardly get any worse for shell-shocked England.
But there was an extra indignity when they appeared to forget the rules and tried to make their way off for the sanctuary of lunch only to be called back by umpires who had remembered that with nine down an extra half hour must be played, or until a wicket finally fell.
It did at last, when within one shot of a maiden first-class hundred, Best tried to complete the job in a single blow but edged a smear at Onions (four for 88) high for Strauss to take the catch running back from slip.
Pietersen and Bell would provide further contributions of note, but the one unforgettable passage of play was over in a match which remains unlikely otherwise to last long in the memory.