NORTH SOUND, Antigua – Captain Kraigg Brathwaite was on the verge of a ninth Test hundred but his first in nearly three years, as he propped up an otherwise erratic West Indies batting effort on the opening day of the decisive second Test against Sri Lanka on Monday.
The 28-year-old ended unbeaten on 99, a resolute innings which saw him become the 16th West Indies batsman to pass 4 000 runs, and which underpinned the home side’s 287 for seven after they were sent in at the Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium.
Left-hander Kyle Mayers struck 49 while Rahkeem Cornwall struck a bold unbeaten 43 and Jason Holder, 30, but West Indies never really settled and lost wickets steadily throughout the day.
In fact, they looked in danger of being dismissed cheaply in the final session when they slumped to 222 for seven just over an hour after tea but Brathwaite and Cornwall combined in an excellent 65-run, eighth wicket stand to deny the Sri Lankans any further success.
Brathwaite, dropped on 37 at third slip by Oshada Fernando off left-arm pacer Vishwa Fernando, about 40 minutes after lunch, has so far faced 239 balls in a shade over 6-½ hours at the crease and struck 11 fours.
Cornwall, meanwhile, has crunched half-dozen fours and a six in a breezy 53-ball knock to be in sight of his second career Test half-century.
“For me, I just wanted to play the ball as late as possible,” Brathwaite said following the day’s play.
“Sri Lanka obviously are a disciplined bowling unit so for me, it was just cashing in on the bad balls.
“The ball wasn’t spinning much so it was the discipline of letting the ball come to me, and that worked for me.”
Irrepressible fast bowler Suranga Lakmal, who finished the day with three for 53, gave Sri Lanka the early initiative when he removed left-handed opener John Campbell (5) and Nkrumah Bonner (0) in successive overs, to reduce West Indies to 15 for two inside the first 45 minutes.
Campbell’s lengthy run of poor form continued when he nicked a defensive prod and was caught at the wicket in the morning’s seventh over while Bonner, coming off a hundred in the last Test, played back and inside-edged the sixth ball he faced onto his stumps.
Brathwaite then inspired the first of three half-century stands, adding 71 with Mayers for the third wicket to see West Indies to lunch on 86 for two.
Mayers, who made 45 and 52 in the last Test, made an uncertain start against the Sri Lankan seamers and was dropped on 12 by Pathum Nissanka at third slip off Lakmal on the stroke of the first hour.
He survived and launched a counter-attack with eight fours off 61 deliveries to be unbeaten on 49 at lunch, but lasted only a further three balls following the resumption before driving at a full length delivery from Vishwa and giving wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella the second of his four catches.
Jermaine Blackwood arrived to lash two fours and a six in 18 off 29 balls and had added 34 for the fourth wicket when he edged Lakmal behind on the stroke of the drinks break, leaving the home side on 120 for four.
In need of a partnership, the Windies found one in Brathwaite and Holder who put on 51 for the fifth wicket to slow Sri Lanka’s advance through the middle order.
Holder exuded class in a knock lasting 34 balls in nearly an hour, the majority of his five fours coming in beautifully timed strokes down the ground.
However, he was a victim of his increasing confidence with tea approaching, driving at the first ball of off-spinner Dhananjaya De Silva’s opening spell and edging a simple catch to Lahiru Thirimanne at first slip.
There was drama in the third over before the interval when new batsman Joshua Da Silva missed a sweep at the second ball he faced and was adjudged lbw to Dhananjaya in what appeared to be a plumb lbw decision.
Once the decision was reviewed, however, DRS showed the ball turning hugely to miss leg, much to the astonishment of the Sri Lankan team and Da Silva himself, who had nearly exited the field.
Yet to score at tea with Brathwaite on 61, Da Silva failed to make the most of the let-off and was caught behind for one off pacer Dushmantha Chameera, wafting at a widish delivery, half-hour after the interval.
A partnership blossomed between Brathwaite and budding all-rounder Alzarri Joseph (29), the pair posting 37 for the seventh wicket to keep Sri Lanka wicketless for almost the remainder of the first hour.
Joseph drove with authority to notch three fours and a six off 41 balls before he was hit in front by a straight one from left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya to signal the drinks break.
But any hopes Sri Lanka entertained of a swift end to the innings were then dashed, however, as Brathwaite and Cornwall defied the second new ball to help West Indies end strongly.
WEST INDIES 1st Innings
*K Brathwaite not out 99
J Campbell c wkp Dickwella b Lakmal 5
N Bonner b Lakmal 0
K Mayers c wkp Dickwella b V Fernando 49
J Blackwood c wkp Dickwella b Lakmal 18
J Holder c Thirimanne b de Silva 30
+J Da Silva c wkp Dickwella b Chameera 1
A Joseph lbw b Embuldeniya 29
R Cornwall not out 43
Extras (lb6, nb7) 13
TOTAL (7 wkts, 86 overs) 287
To bat: K Roach, S Gabriel
Fall of wickets: 1-11 (Campbell), 2-15 (Bonner), 3-86 (Mayers), 4-120 (Blackwood), 5-171 (Holder), 6-185 (Da Silva), 7-222 (Joseph)
Bowling: Lakmal 20-8-71-3 (nb1), V Fernando 22-4-59-1, Embuldeniya 21-4-79-1 (nb5), Chameera 16-3-56-1, Dhananjaya 7-3-16-1 (nb1).
SRI LANKA – Dimuth Karunaratne (captain), Lahiru Thiramanne, Oshada Fernando, Dinesh Chandimal, Dhananjaya de Silva, Pathum Nissanka, Niroshan Dickwella, Suranga Lakmal, Vishwa Fernando, Lasith Embuldeniya, Dushmantha Chameera.
Toss: Sri Lanka.
Umpires: G Brathwaite, J Wilson; TV – N Duguid.