Same island, different ground, same result. Six years ago West Indies defied England nine down at the Recreation Ground in Antigua, after the Test was shifted due to the dangerous outfield at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, with Daren Powell and Fidel Edwards surviving 10 tension-filled overs on the historic ground. This time the last-wicket pair were not needed as Jason Holder, a 23-year-old on whom so much rests for the future of West Indies cricket, produced an outstanding display of maturity in scoring a maiden first-class hundred in an innings spanning 216 minutes and 149 balls, and with help from Denesh Ramdin and Kemar Roach hauled the team to safety.
James Anderson prized out the seventh wicket shortly before the start of the final hour, finding Ramdin’s edge to first slip with a classical leg-cutter, to make him England’s leading Test wicket-taker, overtaking Ian Botham’s 383 scalps having gone level with Botham during the morning session when Marlon Samuels edged to gully. It broke a stand of 105, leaving England 18 overs to take the final three wickets, but they could not get past the sturdy defence and big hearts of Holder and Roach.
With two overs remaining, Holder went to his hundred with a brace of lofted drives off James Tredwell in three balls, becoming the eighth West Indies batsman to score a Test century at No. 8, then Roach negotiated four balls of the last over from Anderson to prompt Alastair Cook to offer his hand to the undefeated West Indies batsmen meaning England have still had not won overseas since November 2012 in Kolkata.
There were a couple of near misses in the closing stages. With six overs left, Holder hammered a drive into silly point’s ankle that rebounded towards Tredwell who could not quite hold on diving forward and to his left. Then, with 17 balls remaining, Roach edged Anderson in front of Cook at first slip and later in the same over England used a futile review in the faint hope Roach had edged a full delivery to Buttler.
England removed three wickets before lunch – Tredwell and Joe Root claiming one apiece – to seemingly put themselves on course for a 1-0 series lead and when Jermaine Blackwood departed moments before the second new ball West Indies were 189 for 6 with 51 overs remaining in the day. But they could only claim one in the second session as Ramdin and Holder began their resistance, firstly by negotiating the second new ball and then blunting England on a surface that offered little encouragement.
The trueness of the surface – and it was certainly not as flat as those seen at the Rec so many times – should not diminish Holder’s effort in the slightness. It was an innings of immense character and fortitude from a player who has a vast part to play in West Indies’ future. This was another example of why some judges believe batting could surpass bowling as his major asset.
Early in his innings against Stuart Broad he pulled short of Jonathan Trott at deep square leg, but his upright defence and classic strokeplay withstood everything England could throw at him. His shot selection should certainly have been a lesson to Blackwood and Devon Smith who threw their wickets away with horrid strokes when there was a Test match to save.
The opening seven overs of the day brought one run when Smith and Samuels resumed, with any notion of West Indies aiming to chase down the runs clearly not on the agenda. Tredwell provided the opening breakthrough, his only wicket of the final day, when Smith gave away 174-balls of concentration by picking out mid-on as he all of a sudden tried to come out of his shell and advanced at the bowler.
Tredwell continued to vary his pace and flight skilfully – twice responding to sixes by Samuels by troubling him with turn and bounce, the second chance producing a tough stumping opportunity – and helping to compensate for the fact that he is not a huge turner of the ball. A 13-over spell was ended 20 minutes before lunch when Root was given another chance to be a partnership breaker. Once again, the move paid off handsomely.
In the second over of his spell Root slid one into the pads of Shivnarine Chanderpaul that would have crashed into middle and leg stump – the first lbw of the match. Chanderpaul, a man very capable of batting out two sessions, reviewed in hope rather than expectation and was walking off the ground before the decision was confirmed.
As he did in the first innings, Blackwood mixed caution with aggression until, in the last over before the new ball was due, inexplicably charging at Chris Jordan, swinging across the line, and getting a bottom edge which was well held by Jos Buttler. It was the type of stroke that appeared to signal a white flag, but not for the first time in the match West Indies showed their resolve and left Antigua as elated as England were deflated.