It was entirely fitting that a Test match convened in extraordinary circumstances should have an extraordinary conclusion last night. England were denied a thrilling victory as the West Indies last-wicket pair of Fidel Edwards and Daren Powell held out for 10 overs before darkness descended.
For England it was ultimately wretched; for the West Indies it was a superb; fighting effort and a triumph of will; for the game in general it was a kind of redemption. The tourists had atoned for the spectacular nature of their defeat in Jamaica, where they were bowled out for 51, but remain 1-0 down in the series. As for Test cricket, it urgently needed precisely this kind of contest after the second Test was abandoned a week ago because of an unfit and dangerous outfield.
The dear old Antigua Recreation Ground, pressed into service once more at 36 hours' notice after being in retirement for three years, came to the rescue and played like a dream. England's misery was magnified. Andrew Flintoff, their all-rounder, played only a peripheral role in proceedings for most of the day because of a hip injury and the future of his tour is in doubt. He will have an MRI scan when the team reach Barbados today but the extent of the fears for his role in the rest of the series was revealed by the announcement that two players have been called up as cover. Ravi Bopara, the Essex all-rounder and Amjad Khan, Kent's Danish fast bowler, will join the squad today from the England Lions party in New Zealand.
The day could hardly have been more fraught for England. Delayed by rain in the morning, they were then kept waiting until the 37th over for their first wicket as the pitch continued to defy all sensible prognostications. None of this was in the script they had doubtless written for themselves. This would have contained sunny skies and a procession of batsmen wandering back to the pavilion, undone by a tired surface. When play began 75 minutes late – only three overs were lost but that took no account of the evening light – England were confronted by Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul in their more obdurate moods.
Since, when they are their most cavalier, they stick to the crease as though they were hanging on to the last lifeboat on the Titanic, this was grim news for the tourists. And then there was the Flintoff factor. He bowled through the pain of the injury, having had an anti-inflammatory injection, but he was plainly suffering and not at his most dynamic. There was the sense that he was in a bit part when on a day such as this he should have been playing a key role. Flintoff bowled after lunch and after tea, when he was more incisive. But he regularly had to leave the field.
Thus did the fates conspire against England. They must have been on the verge of allowing the fates to have their way if that was what they wanted, when, at last they got a break.
It came with the second new ball, effectively the final throw of the dice.
In its second over, Stuart Broad produced one that shot back at Sarwan, did not bounce as much as it might have done and removed his off stump. In its eighth, he came up with another beauty. Operating from round the wicket to Chanderpaul he sent one moving in to the batsman which veered away slightly and took the shoulder of the bat.
The Guyanese pair were simply splendid. Sarwan, denied a hundred in the first innings, when he tried to move there from 94 with one blow, did as he said he would this time by playing each delivery on its merits. He reached his second hundred of the series from 189 balls when his 11th four was squeezed down to third man. But then he was out to his 194th.
If anything, Chanderpaul had been the less secure of the two, which hardly made him a walking wicket. He edged the odd one without offering a chance and was rapped on the pads occasionally by Graeme Swann, but that bizarre straight-on stance, which England had to watch for more than 24 hours in the 2007 series, was back to haunt them. When he hooked precariously on 52, it seemed the chance might have gone.
Hope which had drained away was suddenly, swiftly replenished. Shortly after tea, Brendan Nash, the Australian who treats his wicket as if it were his most precious possession in the world, was leg before to a ball from Graeme Swann that barely turned. Umpire Daryl Harper carefully weighed his verdict but his conclusion was correct. When Jerome Taylor flicked too casually to midwicket against Jimmy Anderson, the substitute Ian Bell, on for Flintoff who had left temporarily, took a smart diving catch. England were down to the tail. Four overs later Anderson had Denesh Ramdin, whose 76-ball vigil ended when he found himself stuck in his crease and edged on.
Still, the West Indies were not done. There is a new resolution about this team and if, as their captain Chris Gayle had said, they were weary after the shenanigans surrounding the Antiguan leg of this series, they were still ready to fight. Sulieman Benn and Jerome Taylor were positively jaunty in their eight overs together.
Benn, however, began playing a dangerous game to Swann. He continually padded up to the off-spinner. Twice in two balls Swann appealed for lbw and was turned down. And then for the third time in the over, the 118th of the innings, Been again allowed the ball to hit his pads. This time Rudi Koertzen sent him on his way.
The last pair were together. Edwards had been part of a last -wicket draw on this ground in the last match three years ago when he batted for nearly an hour. It was some climax.
Ball of the day
England were in dire need of wickets with the second new ball and Stuart Broad produced a beauty to remove Ramnaresh Sarwan five balls after he reached his hundred, one moving back off the pitch and keeping a touch low.
Shot of the day
Sarwan's squeeze to third man that brought up an utterly deserved second hundred of the series. He has batted splendidly in this series so far, and is the embodiment of the new West Indies, recording scores of 107, 94 and 106.
Moment of the day
Watching the ground staff carefully remove the covers in the morning, it looked for all the world as though they might spill water from them on to the pitch. Disaster loomed. Relief all round when after five anxious minutes the Australian-made Super Sopper appeared to do some mechanical soaking up.
Recreation Ground Scoreboard
Final day of five, close; West Indies won toss
England – First Innings 566-9 dec & 221-8
West Indies – First Innings 285
West Indies – Second innings
*C H Gayle lbw b Swann 46, 98 min, 67 balls, 8 fours
D S Smith lbw b Harmison 21, 76 min, 60 balls, 2 fours
R R Sarwan b Broad 106, 252 min, 196 balls, 12 fours
R O Hinds c Shah b Broad 6, 19 min, 16 balls, 1 four
S Chanderpaul c Prior b Broad 55, 239 min, 165 balls, 5 fours
B P Nash lbw b Swann 23, 68 min, 49 balls, 4 fours
†D Ramdin b Anderson 21, 101 min, 76 balls, 3 fours
J E Taylor c Sub (Bell) b Anderson 11, 41 min, 28 balls, 1 four
S J Benn lbw b Swann 21, 51 min, 34 balls, 2 fours, 1 six
D B L Powell not out 22, 65min, 55 balls, 2 four
F H Edwards not out 5, 34 min, 26 balls, 1 four
Extras (b21, lb7, w1, nb4, pens0) 33
Total (for 9, 128 overs) 370
Fall: 1-59 (Smith), 2-81 (Gayle), 3-96 (Hinds), 4-244 (Sarwan), 5-261 (Chanderpaul),6-287 (Nash), 7-313 (Taylor), 8-322 (Ramdin), 9-353 (Benn).
Bowling: Anderson 25-6-68-2; Broad 21-3-69-3; Swann 39-12-92-3; Harmison 22-3-54-1; Flintoff 15-5-32-0; Pietersen 3-0-14-0; Shah 3-0-12-0.
Umpires: D J Harper (Aus) and R E Koertzen (SA).
TV replay umpire: N A Malcolm.
Match referee: A G Hurst (Australia).