ST JOHN’S, ANTIGUA –– Middle-order batsman Jermaine Blackwood scored his maiden Test century for the West Indies today but at the end of the third day’s play of the first Test at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium England were in the ascendancy having built a healthy 220-run lead despite again making a poor start to their innings.
Having bowled the West Indies out for 295 to secure a first innings lead of 104, England closed on 116 for 3 with Gary Ballance and Joe Root having compiled an unbroken fourth wicket stand of 64.
However, openers Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott failed to impress once more and the batting star of the day was Blackwood who defied all that England threw at him in compiling an unbeaten 112. James Anderson took the last wicket of the West Indies innings and the seamer is now just one short of Sir Ian Botham’s England Test record.
Replying to England’s first innings total of 399, West Indies resumed on 155 for 4 and Blackwood enjoyed an early reprieve off the bowling of the unlucky Ben Stokes.
The Durham all-rounder had Blackwood caught off a no ball yesterday and now looked on in frustration as James Tredwell could not quite hang onto a tricky chance in the gully.
Blackwood went on to reach his 50 off 120 balls, and he and veteran Shivnarine Chanderpaul took their fifth-wicket stand to 93 before Chanderpaul (46) hit Tredwell straight to Stokes at short cover.
Stuart Broad (2 for 67) then removed Denesh Ramdin (nine) when the West Indies captain nicked a lifting leg-side delivery to wicketkeeper Jos Buttler.
Jason Holder hit his first ball for four but was dropped off the next, Ballance spilling a fairly routine chance at short-leg. And Holder (16) went on to help add 49 for the seventh wicket, keeping Blackwood company as the right-hander completed a gutsy hundred.
Before he reached three figures, Stokes (0-64) had a close lbw appeal turned down, and England failed to overturn the decision on review. A relieved Blackwood then hit Stokes for 14 in an over, including a big six over long-off, before smacking Tredwell back over his head to reach 98.
The 23-year-old then made it to 100 off the 205th delivery he faced, pushing the ball back down the ground to notch a first-ever Test ton on his sixth appearance.
However, two balls later Holder drove Tredwell (4-47) to Ballance at cover, and the spinner also removed Kemar Roach (five), who got a thin edge and gave Buttler his fifth catch of the innings.
Jerome Taylor was then run out for a duck two balls later, sent back when he set off for a risky single and beaten by Broad’s throw to Buttler.
That meant Anderson (2-67) would have to wait to equal Botham’s mark but he closed in to within one when Benn, brainlessly swinging at almost every delivery despite a century-maker at the other end, was caught for two by Joe Root at short-leg off a combination of bat and pad.
Blackwood left the field to a well-deserved ovation but England would have been pleased to secure a first innings lead of 104.
However, there was disappointment for Trott when the tourists began their second innings as he failed again in his new role as opener, having returned to the team for his first Test since November 2013.
Trott improved on his first innings duck but was dismissed for four when he fell over somewhat as he tried to drive a lovely away-swinger from Taylor and nicked behind to Ramdin.
And it was 20 for 2 when Cook went for 13, lunging at a full delivery and edging to Benn at gully as Taylor (2-12) got further reward for an impressive opening spell.
Ian Bell (11) then helped Ballance steady the ship to an extent but was run out by a long way when he looked for a quick single to the leg side but was sent back, Ramdin just about gathering sub Devendra Bishoo’s throw and dislodging the bails.
But that was the last success of the day for the hosts as Ballance, who has been somewhat out of sorts of late, worked hard for some welcome runs, finishing on 44 not out off 113 balls. And he was ably assisted by the more fluent Root, who survived a very optimistic West Indies review and was unbeaten on 32 at stumps.
At the end of play Blackwood told reporters he was pleased with his century and promised there would be many more. He said no one really remembered when batsmen made half-centuries and he would be looking to be remembered by making more Test tons.
Sir Vivian Richards was impressed with Blackwood.
“I love his confidence,” Richards told ESPNcricinfo. “It’s not often you see a young man who has the confidence to take on these well-known fast bowlers as soon as they come into the game.
“He has that Caribbean style. He’s a bit like Collis King; he can tear an attack apart on his day. Any attack.
“Sure, there are some rough edges. But I would rather have a guy who can play the shots and teach him the defence than a guy who doesn’t have any shots. He’s a natural. It’s all natural instinct. And that’s the way it is with most of the best players.”
Sir Vivian added: “They have to stick with him. He is still learning and there will be bad days along the way. But he can damage teams. He can make a difference. When you hit the ball like that, and when you have a passion to hit a ball like that, you don’t try and curb it. You may channel it. But it’s a natural talent and it is to be encouraged and celebrated.”