Somewhere the West Indies have found a backbone. The team who throughout this decade have spent too many of their innings coming and going, but mostly going, unveiled their new persona yesterday.
It could not exactly be described as calypso cricket but the crucial element was that they did not play the familiar refrain of calypso collapso. Throughout the third day of the First Test they made it their business to grind England down.
A run rate that barely teetered along at two runs an over must have tested the resolve of supporters, most of whom can still recall the great days of flashing blades when they ruled Planet Cricket, but then resolve was something that had gone missing in their players too long ago. Fresher still in their mind's eyes would be the repeated days of capitulation which have marred successive recent West Indies' teams and brought the game in the Caribbean to its knees.
But in Sabina Park at the start of the series, they made a declaration of intent. Led by their captain Chris Gayle, a dashing cavalier playing the role of repressed roundhead, they made it their purpose to ensure that England could not win this match. It does not mean that West Indies will take a 1-0 lead but they have given the tourists much to ponder.
Their cricket, far from being spineless, was full of spine. Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan both made hundreds on a pitch never yielding easy runs but contained few demons and England, who bowled with some spirit, frequently looked toothless. The pair put on 202, the first double hundred partnership for the second wicket against England since the Lord's Test of 1984.
It took 72 overs, a fact which made an odd bedfellow with the other big cricketing news of the day, the auction of players in the Indian Premier League. Sarwan, not long ago one of the world's top one-day batsmen, had failed to find a buyer. Strange times. He and Gayle were setting out a stall for the future. Every careful defensive stroke, every cautious leave was saying that enough was enough.
And their successors at the crease did not waste the legacy. On this occasion, Shiv Chanderpaul failed, though it took him nearly two hours to do so. But Brendan Nash and Denesh Ramdin made it their business to entrench themselves. Nash, an Australian by birth, is a stoic number six who made 47 not out in a day that yielded only 192 runs, a decent score in Twenty20 whose supporters would not comprehend this. West Indies led by 34 runs with three wickets in hand.
England bowled well enough and their tight lines and throttling fields were at least partly responsible for the stately progress. Equally, they lacked a cutting edge and it was another long, unhappy day for Monty Panesar. The suspicion grows that he is not a spinner who thinks quickly enough on his feet and it was not allayed by his belated removal of Ramdin.
There were brief uplifting spells from Stuart Broad and when he removed Gayle and Xavier Marshall in three balls immediately before lunch there was the faintest glimmer that England would claw their way in front in the match.
The day was again intermittently interrupted by requests for reviews of umpiring decisions – there were three – which did nothing to help a Test that was hardly flowing. Although these referrals may become an integral part of the game for the next generation – think texting and computer games – they seem to be an unwelcome interloper at present.
Gayle successfully referred Tony Hill's adjudication that he had touched a ball from Flintoff down the leg side to wicketkeeper Matt Prior. The TV evidence swiftly showed he had not and poor Hill had to reverse one of his own decisions for the third time.
But the West Indies captain deserved the hundred that he proceeded then to bring up in spectacular fashion.
Having been hanging around in the eighties for longer than he would have liked he suddenly exploded against Panesar. A six over long on was followed by another next ball. This brought him to 98. The smart money at this stage said that Gayle, being the dude he is, would be inclined to go for a hat-trick. He is cooler than that. Instead he outfoxed Panesar by lapping him for three.
It was his first hundred at his home ground of Sabina Park and temporarily he allowed his feelings to show. Gayle has been an under-achiever as a Test batsman, too often trying to be too cool but it may be significant that while his career average is 39, his average as captain 52. Under him, the side are developing steel.
Broad removed him via an inside edge and an edgy Xavier Marshall lbw two balls later. But Sarwan completed his hundred, along the way becoming the youngest of the 12 West Indians to have made 5,000 Test runs, and then batted another hour while adding a handful more. By then he was pushing the boundaries of attrition. At last he chopped on off Flintoff after 290 balls.
England wrongly if understandably gambled their last review of trying to remove Shiv Chanderpaul leg before. But they later removed him the same way, his appeal failing.
Still, West Indies went on. Nash and Ramdin gave them the lead and it seemed only one side could win the match. West Indies are not back but they might be on the road.
Shot of the day
The lap shot that Chris Gayle played to reach his century was as cheeky as it was effective because he had launched the previous two balls for six.
Ball of the day
Stuart Broad is being saddled with the reputation of a bowler who looks good but does not take wickets. There is only one riposte to that. Two balls after he removed Gayle he produced a beauty to a nervous Xavier Marshall, recognising the batsman would possibly not be moving his feet and the movement back did the trick.
Moment of the day
The New Zealander Tony Hill is standing in his eighth Test match and must be worried if there will be a ninth. For the third time in two days he had to overturn one of his own decisions when TV replays showed that the ball had brushed Chris Gayle's thigh. His face was a picture of earnest concentration; he must have felt dreadful.Reuse content