Slowly, painstakingly, patiently England began to close the gap on the West Indies here yesterday. It was a long, long day for both teams on the third day of the third Test, for most of it as tight as a steel drum.
But by the close the tourists were scenting victory. Steel drums might not be all they would play if they could level the series at 1-1 some time today or tomorrow.
It took England 89.2 overs to bowl out the West Indies but by then they had a lead of 281 runs. There were moments when it seemed that it would not be so handsome but the tourists wore down the opposition, crucially taking wickets in small clusters.
By the close they had extended the margin to 312 runs, having not enforced the follow-on. They lost their captain, Andrew Strauss, but otherwise were not too troubled. If the tourists do not win here and atone in some measure for the folly of Jamaica, something will have gone horribly wrong or West Indies will have played extremely well.
The man who was the oddest choice in England’s team proved also to be the most inspired. Graeme Swann, their off-spinner, took 5 for 57 in 24 overs. Had the match been held at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Swann would not have played.
But when the match was abandoned because of its unfit outfield and effectively started anew at the Antigua Recreation Ground, it was decided that Monty Panesar had to stand down. Swann, it was said, could take advantage of the left-handers in the West Indies side, but then they had all been there before. After his unexpected triumph, Swann said the haul was “right up there” with his first over in Test cricket when he took two wickets in Chennai, and with reaching double figures here yesterday. But it might have been better than that. “I was particularly pleased to get out Ramnaresh Sarwan because I didn’t really have any idea where to bowl to him at the time.” Sarwan, who holed out for 94, going for glory to reach his hundred, was the most crucial of his wickets.
Whatever the reason for the belated, unexpected change, Swann seized the day. It would be wonderful to report that he did so with an unplayable sequence of ripping, fizzing deliveries that gave a new meaning to the idea of the mystery spinner. But it was not so.
Swann bowled intelligently, and achieved a hint of drift and sometimes more turn. This is what off-spinners have to do. He may also be helped by a natural ebullience. For Swann, today is always better than yesterday even when it is freezing, the roof is falling in and his bowling is smashed to smithereens. West Indies did not always show similar intelligence.
There are those who will say it does not say much for the state of English spin bowling that Swann, who has taken 357 wickets in 10 years of county cricket, should now be according to official team selection the leading exponent of the art. That will not bother him.
He did not exactly make huge inroads into the opposition’s left-handers, removing only Devon Smith from the five of the six in the upper order. Smith, who had looked in good order, essayed a cross-batted slog that would have brought repercussions on the village green. The ARG may be a homely environment but this was taking it to ridiculous extremes.
Before lunch, Swann had also removed the nightwatchman, Daren Powell, who had done his job. Having been rested for a while, the off-spinner came back effusively. He removed Sarwan six short of a century which had seemed his for the taking from the moment he walked in.
Sarwan was at his most comely, cutting neatly, driving sweetly, all of it with compactness. He had reached 94 when he decided to drive Swann from outside off stump to leg. The ball reached mid-on. Next ball, a low full toss, Denesh Ramdin drove back to the bowler. The wonder was that Swann did not get his first Test hat-trick (had he done so he would have assured us there would be a second), although Jerome Taylor pushed it perilously close to his off-stump.
Swann had Sulieman Benn leg before to become the first English off-spinner to take five wickets in an innings since Peter Such at Sydney in 1999. In the decade since, Jim Laker can hardly have stopped rotating in his grave.
Sarwan apart, there was resilience but not prolonged resistance from the West Indies. Too often, they got out when they were in. This has been their fault for long enough and the suspicion remains that if they fail to hold on here, they will find it tough going thereafter.
England mostly rotated their four fast bowlers, though Stephen Harmison was out of sorts with a stomach upset and had to go off the field occasionally. Andrew Flintoff worked up a head of steam and Stuart Broad, rarely offering anything to hit, took perhaps the most important wicket.
For two resplendent years, Shivnarine Chanderpaul has been the world’s leading batsman but he had looked dreadfully out of sorts as he came |to the wicket, stooped low and trudging along.
He drove at his eighth ball but, being squared up, he edged it faintly to Prior, who scooped it up by his bootlaces. From 200 for 3 to 200 for 5, still 366 behind: this changed the complexion of the game. Chanderpaul may not (quite) be carrying the team on his shoulders any longer, but his dismissal is still ominous.
Brendan Nash has displayed an exemplary obduracy in his short career but he tends to be going nowhere quickly. When he was the eighth out there was nothing to come.
England batted again as they had to do, both because their bowlers were tired and they did not want to bat last on a pitch which must betray signs of wear some time. They will look to declare at lunch today and win as early on Thursday as they can.
Recreation Ground Scoreboard
Third day of five; close of play, West Indies won toss
England – First Innings 566 for 9 dec (A J Strauss 169, P D Collingwood 113, O A Shah 57, A N Cook 52, K P Pietersen 51).
West Indies – First Innings (Overnight: 55 for 1)
*C H Gayle c Anderson b Harmison 30, 45 min, 32 balls, 5 fours, 1 six
D S Smith b Swann 38, 134 min, 90 balls, 7 fours
D B L Powell c Collingwood b Swann 22, 129 min, 86 balls, 2 fours
R R Sarwan not out 94, 200 min, 133 balls, 14 fours, 1 six
R O Hinds c Prior b Flintoff 27, 93 min, 72 balls, 3 fours, 1 six
S Chanderpaul c Prior b Broad 1, 7 min, 8 balls
B P Nash c Collingwood b Flintoff 18, 119 min, 81 balls, 1 four
†D Ramdin c and b Swann 0, 2 min, 1 ball
J E Taylor c and b Flintoff 19, 71 min, 37 balls, 3 fours
S J Benn lbw b Swann 0, 6 min, 4 balls
F H Edwards not out 1, 5 min, 3 balls
Extras (b17 lb5 w2 nb11 pens0) 35
Total (410 min, 89.2 overs) 285
Fall: 1-45 (Gayle) 2-109 (Smith) 3-130 (Powell) 4-200 (Hinds) 5-201 (Chanderpaul) 6-251 (Sarwan) 7-251 (Ramdin) 8-278 (Nash) 9-279 (Benn) 10-285 (Taylor).Bowling: Anderson 19-1-55-0 (nb2 w2) (4-0-9-0, 5-0-16-0, 3-0-14-0, 3-0-10-0, 4-1-6-0); Flintoff 14.2-3-47-3 (nb3) (5-0-22-0, 4-1-13-0, 4-1-8-1, 1.2-1-4-2); Harmison 12-3-44-1 (nb5) (3-0-18-1, 4-1-15-0, 3-1-4-0, 2-1-7-0); Broad 14-4-24-1 (1-0-2-0, 5-2-3-0, 5-2-10-1, 3-0-9-0); Swann 24-7-57-5 (2-1-6-0, 15-5-38-2, 6-1-11-2, 1-0-2-1); Pietersen 2-0-14-0, Collingwood 4-0-22-0 (nb1) (one spell each).
Progress: Second day: 50: 57 mins, 10.4 overs. Close 55-1 (Smith 10, Powell 2) 13 overs. Third day: 100: 114 mins, 24.1 overs. Lunch 132-3 (Sarwan 13, Hinds 2) 42 overs. 150: 208 mins, 46.4 overs. 200: 262 mins, 59 overs. Tea: 221-5 (Sarwan 68, Nash 6) 68 overs. 250: 331 mins, 74.2 overs. New ball taken after 80 overs at 263-7. Innings closed 4.42pm. Sarwan’s 50: 126 mins, 84 balls, 9 fours, 1 six.
England – Second Innings
*A J Strauss c Smith b Edwards 14, 23 min, 21 balls, 2 fours
A N Cook not out 4, 39 min, 12 balls
J M Anderson not out 4, 15 min, 13 balls, 1 four
Extras (w5 nb4) 9
Total (for 1, 39 min, 7 overs) 31
Fall: 1-23 (Strauss).
To bat: O A Shah, K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, A Flintoff, †M J Prior, S C J Broad, G P Swann, S J Harmison.
Bowling: Edwards 4-0-18-1 (nb4 w5), Taylor 3-0-13-0 (one spell each).
Umpires: D J Harper (Aus) and R E Koertzen (SA).
TV replay umpire: N A Malcolm.
Match referee: A G Hurst.