One man has made himself the main attraction in this series. If it was a movie his name would be above the title. Ramnaresh Sarwan, Ronnie to all and sundry, made 291 in the fourth Test yesterday as the West Indies comfortably protected their 1-0 lead, wonderfully embellishing his previous scores of 107, 94 and 106.
His stately and serene progress made it appear as if he was berating himself for those earlier failures and determined not to allow it to happen again. England cannot now win either match or series, which takes some believing considering the casual fashion in which they were installed as runaway favourites barely a month ago. There is the outside prospect that they could lose, though since only 15 wickets fell in the first four days this is as fanciful as their being bowled out for, say, 51. In other words, quite possible.
The bowlers bowled, the batsmen batted, and the pitch did nothing at all. On and on went the West Indies on the fourth day. Then on and on some more. The playing surface remained as blameless as a saint and canonisation must be possible.
Eventually, West Indies declared at 749 for 9, their third highest score in a Test innings, the second highest by any side against England, the ninth highest of all by anybody.
Until late afternoon nothing stirred, neither in the players nor in the crowd. It was Sarwan's second Test double hundred and he was given stalwart, unblinking support by Denesh Ramdin who assembled 166, his maiden century. They shared a partnership of 261, one to enter the realms of others for the West Indies sixth wicket against England, the great stand of 274 between Gary Sobers and David Holford at Lord's in 1966, the statistical tour de force of 282 involving Brian Lara and Ridley Jacobs at the Antigua Rec in 2004.
Towards the end of the second session at least four of England's fielders were practising their golf swings, not bored exactly but trying to find a diversion.
Finally, with the third new ball, Ryan Sidebottom found an inswinger which darted past Sarwan's bat and removed his off-stump. He had fallen just nine short of a deserved triple century. It was a model innings by a batsman in the sort of form he might never have thought possible.
Ramdin was no less laudable. Eschewing the ultra modern celebration of mimicking Usain Bolt's victory celebration when he reached his hundred the Trinidadian took from his pocket and held up a piece of paper which had written on it, ''Thanks Bish, Ronnie and Willie.''
They were the former West Indies fast bowler, Ian Bishop and the team's assistant coach, David Williams, both fellow Trinidadians and Sarwan, the man self-evidently giving a batting masterclass at the other end. ''This morning when I woke up I thought I would make a century so I wrote the note,'' said Ramdin, whose father Diaram had flown to Barbados to see him. It was a lovely gesture at a moment of longed for personal achievement.
The tourists missed the assistance of their new best friend, the umpiring review system. It had helped them in four of the first five wickets to fall – all lbw verdicts – but they used their last request in the morning. Sidebottom decided to query the not out decision against Sarwan when the batsman was 208.
Replays showed that it pitched outside leg, the batsman probably hit the ball which was going over the stumps. It bespoke dual desperation: to dismiss Sarwan on the one hand and on the other the need for Sidebottom to get a wicket, any wicket. By the time he did account for Sarwan he had bowled more than 60 overs since his last for England in Tests.
England used eight bowlers in all, though it was Graeme Swann who was again the most successful. For the second successive match he took five wickets in an innings and considering the run rate gradually approached four runs an over 5 for 165 from 50.4 was a noble effort.
The tourists' captain, Andrew Strauss, tried most things to prise out another wicket for the best part of two sessions. There were fields with seven on the off side and two on the leg side, with two short covers. Another option was two men in short on the leg side.
Sarwan continued as though he barely noticed. Before this series started he had been in indifferent form, scoring 20 runs in three innings in the Test series in New Zealand. In the past months he had been a revelation.
It is a measure of the way he set out his stall that when he passed 200 yesterday not one of his 21 fours had been through the on side. He grew comparatively reckless thereafter by clipping four boundaries through the wide open spaces left there. His precision through the off side remained outstanding.
Before the match, it was the general feeling that the pitch might encourage pace and bounce. From the first morning it was clear there was precious little of either. True, someone of express pace like Fidel Edwards flogged some life from it on the second morning but then he is the fastest bowler in the world.
Considering the way it turned out the science of pitch reading was yet again on a par with the science of astrology.
Kensington Oval: scoreboard
Fourth day of five
England won toss
West Indies – First Innings
D S Smith lbw b Swann (referral) 55
158 min, 103 balls, 8 fours
*C H Gayle lbw b Anderson (referral) 6
22 min, 16 balls, 1 four
R R Sarwan b Sidebottom 291
699 min, 452 balls, 30 fours, 2 sixes
R O Hinds lbw b Swann 15
54 min, 46 balls, 2 fours
S Chanderpaul lbw
b Anderson (referral) 70
156 min, 134 balls, 11 fours
B P Nash lbw b Swann (referral) 33
59 min, 43 balls, 5 fours, 1 six
†D Ramdin not out 101
306 min, 204 balls, 11 fours
J E Taylor not out 11
14 min, 16 balls, 1 four, 1 six
Extras (b9, lb9, w1, nb6, pens0) 25
Total (for 6; 737 min, 168 overs) 607
Fall: 1-13 (Gayle), 2-121 (Smith), 3-159 (Hinds), 4-281 (Chanderpaul), 5-334 (Nash), 6-595 (Sarwan).
To bat: S J Benn, D B L Powell, F H Edwards.
Bowling: Anderson 33-9-106-2 (6-0-29-1 6-2-11-0 2-0-8-0 6-1-31-1 6-3-12-0 4-2-9-0), Sidebottom 31-4-122-1 (6-0-21-0 5-0-21-0 4-0-20-0 3-2-7-0 4-0-14-0 5-2-16-0 4-0-23-1), Broad 26-4-93-0 (w1) (11-2-34-0 4-0-13-0 2-0-14-0 4-0-25-0 5-2-7-0), Swann 43-8-126-3 (5-1-14-0 16-4-47-2 5-2-6-0 8-0-25-1 4-1-9-0 1-0-6-0 4-0-19-0), Pietersen 9-1-38-0 (2-1-7-0 2-1-3-0 1-0-8-0 2-0-10-0 2-0-10-0), Bopara 11-0-49-0 (nb3) (6-0-30-0 1-0-3-0 4-0-16-0), Collingwood 13-1-36-0, Shah 2-0-19-0 (nb2) (one spell each).
Progress: Second day: 50: 59 min, 11.2 overs. Close 85-1 (Smith 37, Sarwan 40) 22 overs. Third day: 100: 118 min, 25.4 overs. 150: 199 min, 42.4 overs. Lunch 163-3 (Sarwan 81, Chanderpaul 4) 50 overs. 200: 257 min, 58.3 overs. 250 in 324 min, 74.1 overs. Tea 265-3 (Sarwan 118, Chanderpaul 63) 79 overs. New ball taken after 80 overs at 270-3. 300: 382 min, 87 overs. 350: 446 min, 98.4 overs. Close 398-5 (Sarwan 184, Ramdin 25) 109 overs. Fourth day: 400: 496 min, 110.2 overs. 450: 584 min, 129.5 overs. Lunch 483-5 (Sarwan 229, Ramdin 56) 138 overs. 500: 640 min, 144.1 overs. 550: 686 min, 155.4 overs. 600: 734 min, 167.3 overs. Smith's 50: 135 min, 87 balls, 8 fours. Sarwan's 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. 200: 488 min, 297 balls, 21 balls, 2 sixes. 250: 645 min, 403 balls, 26 fours, 2 sixes. Chanderpaul's 50: 94 min, 80 balls, 9 fours. Ramdin's 50: 177 min, 112 balls, 5 fours. 100: 277 min, 194 balls, 11 fours.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and R B Tiffin (Zim).
TV replay umpire: D J Harper (Aus).
Match referee: A G Hurst (Aus).
Ball of the Day
*The snorting in-swinger from Ryan Sidebottom, using the third new ball, which hit Ramnaresh Sarwan's off stump when he was 291. It was a good delivery, much needed from a bowler clearly struggling for pace and fitness.
Shot of the Day
*In the 118th over, Sarwan hit his 22nd four, a delicate glide off his pads to fine leg. It was remarkable for being his first four on the on side and demonstrated how much West Indies' form man had adhered to a game plan.
Moment of the Day
*When Denesh Ramdin got his maiden Test century he reached inside his flannels pocket for a crumpled note which thanked three mentors, Ian Bishop, David Williams and his batting partner, Sarwan. It was a neat personal touch.