There is unlikely to be a hung jury when the man of the series is determined. Barring spectacular intervention – it would take something like 20 wickets, a match-winning individual score of 500 or, much the favourite, a conclusive contribution from whoever is running the umpire review system – it will be Ramnaresh Sarwan.
In defying all that England could throw at him for three sessions yesterday he made his third century in four innings, finishing on 184 not out. Considering that in his only other visit to the crease he made 96, and threw it away by trying to reach three figures in one blow, he could be said to be in the form of his life.
With Sarwan in casual command, West Indies went a long way towards saving the match and taking their precious 1-0 lead to Trinidad, but they were badly undermined by the umpire review experiment. Four referral decisions have gone against the home side, two of them so ridiculous as to make a mockery of the whole notion and one of them crucial to their cause.
The system was supposed to eradicate poor verdicts and it could definitely be improved if it was run by blindfold drunks, something the ICC should now seriously consider. West Indies' coach John Dyson might have thought so as he sought an explanation from match referee Alan Hurst.
After close of play, Hurst conceded that it had been a difficult day for umpires as both sides asked for referrals. Graeme Swann, who has three of England's five wickets – all of them to leg-before verdicts, four of them after reviews – said: "We didn't realise the controversy till we left the pitch. As far as we were concerned we got given a couple of lbws. We felt aggrieved in Jamaica, the West Indies felt aggrieved here."
Dyson said phlegmatically: "One of the great things about cricket is that it teaches you to accept all decisions and get on with the game. I just wanted a clarification on a couple of things."
The avoidable issue sadly took the lustre from Sarwan's eerily inevitable 14th Test hundred, actually his fifth in his last 14 innings. The pitch was designed to persuade bowlers to pursue other, easier occupational options, such as mending the global economy. He did not look like getting out, England did not look like getting him out. It is what the form of your life means.
By lunch he had been joined by his fellow Guyanan Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who has been in the form of his life for two years. He eased his first ball through the covers for four. It was the stroke of a man whose average since 2007 is 90 and was determined to take it past 100 again. This he failed to do because when he was 70 and the partnership worth 122, he padded up to the second new ball.
Umpire Russell Tiffin gave him out lbw and Chanderpaul understandably asked for a review since the ball was nearer his throat than his legs. Replays indicated what he suspected – that the ball would have gone well over the top. Bizarrely, the original decision was upheld after consultation with the third umpire, Daryl Harper. It was utterly dumbfounding. There was more where that came from.
Sarwan was Chanderpaulesque. He was completely at ease and there was a wonderful precision to his strokes, especially through the off side. He was never in a rush, taking 160 balls to reach his hundred, at which point he performed the ubiquitous Usain Bolt victory celebration, which has now been used more often by Test batsmen than by its originator.
The playing surface has much to answer for. While the match in Antigua ended as a thriller on the fifth evening, it remained throughout tantamount to a batting paradise. Given the finale, nothing should yet be ruled out but Test cricket generally deserves less bland surfaces. Last week, the match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka yielded 644 and 765 runs in the sides' first innings while 13 wickets fell. That is not the purpose of Test cricket. The Kensington Oval is not quite in that category but it was innocuous enough to make England rue their decision to play only four bowlers. But five bowlers, or 25 bowlers, might not have made many inroads. There has been an unexpected toughness to West Indies throughout. England are by now well aware of what confronts them.
Andrew Strauss, their captain, would have settled for two wickets in the morning and he would have been ecstatic if one of them had been Sarwan's. Both of them fell leg before to Swann. Devon Smith, after reaching his first fifty of the series, was leg before to one keeping low despite playing well forward. His review failed.
It was a successful referral, of course, which allowed Sarwan to start this series so forcefully in Jamaica. Adjudged leg before to Stephen Harmison when he was five, he was spared and has never looked back.
England took their second wicket when Ryan Hinds, who had already been almost held at short leg, was beaten by Swann's quicker one and rapped in front.
After Chanderpaul was out in the evening, Swann twice asked for reviews against an untypically dynamic Brendan Nash, and the second time he was successful. England had five lbw verdicts and on this occasion were winners in life's lottery.
England won toss
England – First Innings 600-6 dec
(A J Strauss 142, R S Bopara 104, P D Collingwood 96, A N Cook 94, T R Ambrose 76no)
West Indies – First Innings
D S Smith lbw b Swann (referral)
(158 min, 103 balls, 8 fours)......... 55
R R Sarwan not out
(469 min, 280 balls, 19 fours, 2 sixes)......... 184
R O Hinds lbw b Swann
(54 min, 46 balls, 2 fours)......... 15
S Chanderpaul lbw b Anderson (referral)
(156 min, 134 balls, 11 fours)......... 70
B P Nash lbw b Swann (referral)
(59 min, 43 balls, 5 fours, 1 six)......... 33
†D Ramdin not out
(61 min, 35 balls, 4 fours)......... 25
Extras (b4, lb3, nb3)......... 10
Total (5 wkts, 492 min, 109 overs)......... 398
Fall (cont): 2-121 (Smith), 3-159 (Hinds), 4-281 (Chanderpaul), 5-334 (Nash).
To bat: J E Taylor, D B L Powell, S J Benn, F H Edwards.
Bowling: J M Anderson 20-3-79-2, R J Sidebottom 22-2-83-0, S C J Broad 21-2-86-0, G P Swann 34-7-92-3, K P Pietersen 5-1-18-0, R S Bopara 7-0-33-0 (3nb).
Smith 50: 135 min, 87 balls, 8 fours. Sarwan 50: 88 min, 66 balls, 7 fours. 100: 254 min, 160 balls, 10 fours, 1 six; 150: 416 min, 238 balls, 15 fours, 2 sixes. . Chanderpaul 50: 94 min, 80 balls, 9 fours.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and R B Tiffin (Zim).
TV umpire: D J Harper (Aus).
Match referee: A G Hurst (Aus)Reuse content