ST. JOHN’S, ANTIGUA – West Indies need a further 340 to win the first Test against England at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium tomorrow. Or more realistically, must guard eight wickets zealously to avoid going one-down in the three-match series. Opener Devon Smith was leading West Indies’ second innings efforts with an unbeaten 59, in company with Marlon Samuels (2) as the home side ended the fourth day on 98 for 2 in search of a target of 438.
Gary Ballance’s fine 122 allowed the tourists to declare just before tea with a lead of 437 and it seemed like a memorable evening might be in the offing, with record-chasing James Anderson leading the charge as he looked for the two wickets to replace Sir Ian Botham as England’s top bowler in Tests.
But Anderson found himself stuck on 382, one behind the mark set by Botham 23 years ago, as Smith batted as though his place in the side depended on his innings. It probably did as he had not scored a Test half-century since December 2010.
England had set the game up expertly in rushing to 333 for 7, Jos Buttler joining Ballance with a sparkling unbeaten cameo worth 59.
Stuart Broad struck with his fifth delivery of the chase but England then went wicketless for the next 32 overs, a sequence which only ended when Chris Jordan sprung one-handed to give occasional spinner Joe Root the breakthrough.
It was his second outrageous catch of the game, following a similarly impressive grab from Kraigg Brathwaite, and left his side needing eight wickets on the final day.
With most eyes on Anderson and his imminent place in the record books, it was Broad who set the ball rolling for the tourists in a brief burst before tea.
Brathwaite fended skittishly to Root at short leg and the West Indies went to the interval in trouble on 9 for 1.
The expectation on Anderson was palpable when play resumed, but with the ball refusing to swing he was made to work hard. He worked his way through a seven-over spell which never quite looked worthy of a history-making moment.
Darren Bravo nudged a delivery in front of short leg then sprayed airily in the region of Jordan at gully, but neither were particularly close to finding hands. There were a pair of lbw appeals too, one pitching outside leg against Smith and the other spoiled by a feather from Bravo’s bat.
The second-wicket pair settled into their task as the time ticked past, seeing off a handful of bowling changes as Jordan, James Tredwell and Ben Stokes all tried their arm.
In the end it was Root who did the trick, tempting the drive from Bravo (32) and hopping in delight when Jordan reacted brilliantly.
A near identical chance followed from Smith, but this time the magic evaded Jordan who had initially moved to his left before diving to his right.
England had started the day on 116 for 3, 220 in front, and batted with intent to add 217 in 48 overs. Resuming on 44 – the spoils of a hard-working stint on the third evening – Ballance was the anchor. His first two scoring shots were boundaries, taking him past 50, and when offered any width outside off stump he cut with punchy precision.
Ballance came into the match with three Test sixes to his name but added two more to that tally, slog-sweeping the expensive and ineffective Sulieman Benn into the party stand and lofting Marlon Samuels high over long-off. The shot that took him to three figures was just as emphatic, a jab down the ground off Benn followed by an expressive celebration. When he finally departed it was in the correct spirit, hoisting Benn to deep midwicket in pursuit of six more.
Ballance’s partners were equally single-minded. Root topped up his overnight 32 with 27 effortless runs before Jason Holder trapped him, dragging on with an angled bat while Stokes wasted little time collecting 35 runs, before being stumped four balls after lunch charging Benn.
Yet it was Buttler who provided the real spark, claiming his third half-century in four Test appearances, The Lancashire wicketkeeper’s 56-ball assault extended the lead to 437, which was deemed enough by Alistair Cook when Jordan holed out to Bravo who took an excellent diving catch.