An absorbing Test match continued to unfold in Antigua on a day that included a maiden Test century, a four-wicket haul for a spinner who could not get in his county’s first XI last year and a searing opening spell of fast outswing. England, who earned a priceless lead of 104, finished with a considerable advantage of 220 but it was far from one-way traffic.
Long-suffering West Indies supporters, and many a cricket-lover in general, want to see the team show fight. They saw that quality in abundance from Jermaine Blackwood with a gusty maiden century to repel England, but the persistence of the visiting attack paid off as James Tredwell claimed 4 for 47 during a West Indies’ lower-order collapse.
It was a tough slog for the England bowlers on a surface appearing to die as the match progressed but they were impressive in their diligence. Stuart Broad, Chris Jordan and Ben Stokes all worked up eye-catching pace, while Tredwell, who removed the key scalp of Shivnarine Chanderpaul shortly before the second new ball, chipped through the lower order with subtle changes of pace and flight. West Indies’ last four wickets fell for 19 – and the last three in 11 balls – meaning a situation where something close to parity was not out of the question became a very strong position for England.
However, the home side provided a stirring response with the new ball as Jerome Taylor moved it at pace to complete poor matches for Jonathan Trott and Alastair Cook. Trott, his footwork not in sync, was undone by late swing when he edged a full delivery and Cook, in a manner now very familiar, prodded a catch to gully as Taylor came around the wicket. Both were quality pieces of bowling, but that will do little to quell concerns about the top order.
Using the Dukes ball which Ottis Gibson, now the England’s bowling coach, introduced during his time as West Indies coach, the three quicks found extravagant movement. Kemar Roach tested Ian Bell’s technique while Jason Holder seamed one past Gary Ballance’s outside edge direct to first slip (there was also one flung wide of second slip).
Bell’s run out, after he was sent back by Ballance, left England 52 for 3 and grateful for every one of the runs they earlier led by, but by the close they were sitting significantly more comfortably. Ballance showed signs of regaining the form that has evaporated during his time in the one-day side while Joe Root was as sparky as the first innings, putting Sulieman Benn over deep midwicket with a slog sweep.
The stand-out batting of the day, though, came from Blackwood. His innings was not without fortune, having been caught on the second day off a Stokes no-ball on 21 and then dropped at slip on 43 – a tough chance to Tredwell off the same bowler whose face was soon turning a colour to match his hair.
During the afternoon, Stokes and Blackwood were head-to-head again in an engrossing contest. Blackwood deposited a six over long-off which led to Cook reducing his slip cordon and, on cue two balls later, a thick edge went through the gap. The over ended up costing 14. You half expected to see steam come out of Stokes’ ears.
The run of boundaries helped Blackwood skip into the 80s and there were few nerves on view as he used his feet to drill Tredwell for a boundary to take him to 98 before a gentle push down the ground brought up the hundred off 205 balls.
Both chances England had to remove Blackwood before his half-century came from probing a channel outside off, just back of a length, where an angled bat left him vulnerable. They also went at him with a sustained spell of short-pitched bowling, which caused some uneasy moments but did not dislodge him.
Broad, during a strong five-over spell before lunch, twice had him in bother, first when a bouncer was fended in the air but landed short of Jos Buttler and then when a delivery crunched into his forearm, requiring some treatment.
But, as he had the previous evening, Blackwood did not take a backward step, suddenly emerging from prolonged periods of defence with an aggressive stroke. He was not afraid to loft over the off side as he did against Stokes and, more brazenly, against Anderson in the first over of the second new ball. Later, with three figures safely secured, he slugged the same bowler disdainfully through midwicket.
At the start of day Blackwood had the experience of Chanderpaul for company. The pair were on the brink of reaching the crucial 80-over juncture of the new ball, having taken their stand to 93, when Chanderpaul was lured into driving to one of two short covers, a victory for Tredwell and for Cook.
The short-ball tactic did not shift Blackwood, but it succeeded against Denesh Ramdin. Switching to around the wicket paid off straight away for Broad when Ramdin gloved down the leg side as he attempted to pull out of the line. Holder, who flicked his second ball at short leg where Ballance could not hold a reflex catch, provided solid support for Blackwood in a seventh-wicket stand of 49 before the slide set in shortly after Blackwood’s landmark. Holder drove low to cover, Tredwell getting some drift in a helpful breeze, then Roach edged a quicker delivery.
As is often the case with West Indies, a touch of chaos was just around the corner and Taylor was run out having set off for a non-existent single to point. In the blink of an eye the innings was over as Benn bottom edged into his pads and looped a catch to short leg to push Anderson one wicket closer to Ian Botham. He now needs two for the England record.