To arrive at the happy place Ravi Bopara reached yesterday required a startling confluence of events. Without the birth of a baby, an injury to a key player and the poor form of another he would not have been in Bridgetown to compile a majestic maiden Test hundred and establish an impregnable position for England in the fourth Test.
On such improbable coincidences are careers made. Bopara was summoned from New Zealand last weekend as cover for Andrew Flintoff. It might have gone no further than that but then Johnny Prior was born slightly earlier than expected and his dad, Matt, flew home to see his first child. When the selectors decided to play six batsmen Bopara still had to overcome the challenge of Ian Bell, who had been selected for the tour before him.
So far, so JB Priestley. The rest looked ridiculously easy. Bopara might have been out when he was four and knocked out when he was 27 by a ball which smashed into the grill on his helmet. But in a quite compelling session, in which he picked up the gauntlet thrown down to him in the form of a ferocious spell of controlled short bowling by Fidel Edwards, he became a Test batsman at last.
He hooked and pulled with admirable intent, never once shirking the challenge, he larruped it generally through the on-side. He was enjoying himself hugely. This was all in England's interests – they needed a mountain of runs and they needed them quickly – but particularly admirable because Bopara had a bogey or two to lay. His first association with Test cricket, in Sri Lanka 15 months ago, had ended in embarrassment.
The most lauded young batsman of his generation, he finished the series with three ducks in a row, garnering a pair in Galle where his second innings terminated in his being run out after one ball. If there were demons he concealed them, as, fortunately for him, did the pitch.
England were able to declare at 600 for six, the first time since 2003 that they have managed to make so many runs. Each and everyone was needed as the pitch behaved in a similarly benign fashion towards West Indies. At 85 for one by the close, they still have much work to do and concentration may be the key. England's four bowlers will not be under-employed.
Bopara's hundred took 140 balls and was celebrated in Usain Bolt style – he said he wanted to do it as a compliment to the people of the Caribbean. He was in early after Kevin Pietersen's referral of his lbw decision was rightly turned down. It always looked out and the prima facie evidence – it pitched on and was hitting after the batsman missed it – confirmed it.
Paul Collingwood was as close he can get to sublime, which is perhaps not very sublime at all, but as ever he pulled with alacrity and unfurled the odd cover drive, probably to show that he could. They put on 149 in 34.2 overs but had to survive a wonderfully hostile burst from Edwards.
He had decided, rightly, that Bopara could be tempted into taking on the short ball, and peppered him. Having accounted for Pietersen, he should by rights have had Bopara caught by Jerome Taylor, but the fielder mistimed both his run and his catch.
Edwards kept bouncing, Bopara kept hooking. He struck a six which just cleared the fence and was hit smack in the grill – without it he would have been seeking urgent dental repairs and perhaps much worse besides. The method worked for Edwards eventually but by then England were way past 500, the target they had initially set themselves.
None of the rest of the West Indies attack provided a potent threat in the conditions but there was a modicum of turn. Collingwood should have scored his second hundred of the series but attempting to post it in authoritative fashion with his 13th four, the ball veered off to point.
Tim Ambrose was ruthless. Dropped from his third ball by wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin, he cut and pulled venomously. His fourth Test score above fifty came in 61 balls and could well have been converted into his second hundred had the declaration not been made.
West Indies were unbothered by England's opening attack. There was no swing and there was insufficient pace. Nobody bowled with the fire of Edwards. To general glee, England removed Chris Gayle after asking for a review of a lbw decision. The referral looked optimistic from the start and this seemed to be supported by the replays. Umpire Russell Tiffin, however, decided that he was wrong.
It still did not look right and the review system is still winning few friends. On this pitch it may yet have a part to play. A dodgy referral looks like the only way at present to dismiss the resplendent Ramnaresh Sarwan.
Kensington Oval: Scoreboard
Ball of the day
*Ravi Bopara was enjoying himself yesterday, tucking into some West Indian short stuff with glee – until Fidel Edwards clocked him on the chin with a short one. Bopara needed treatment and running repairs to his dented helmet.
Shot of the day
*Tim Ambrose, desperate to shine while the first-choice wicketkeeper Matt Prior is wiping bottoms back in Blighty, swept two mighty sixes off Sulieman Benn yesterday. The second was the pick, flying in front of square and into the stand.
Moment of the day
*There seems to be a trend creeping into the England side of trying to get to three figures with a boundary. Strauss managed it on day one but Cook failed. Collingwood seemed to be at it yesterday, too – but fell caught in the deep.