West Indies turned what looked likely to be a nail-biting chase into a canter over the line as the evening shadows enveloped Kensington Oval to secure a hugely notable shared series. Darren Bravo and Jermaine Blackwood, both reining themselves in from their natural preference to attack when the game was in the balance, formed the decisive partnership of 108 for the fifth wicket.
Bravo played with great maturity for 82 off 148 balls, taking West Indies to the brink of victory with a flourish of boundaries only to pick out mid-off with four needed. Blackwood, given a life on 4, remained unbeaten and completed an outstanding Test – and productive series – by showing levels of restraint that had not always been on show at other stages of the three matches and lofted the winning shot down the ground. It was the stand-out period of batting in a game dominated by the bowlers, although showed up much of the batting that preceded it.
Bravo and Blackwood came together with the innings teetering on 80 for 4 when Shivnarine Chanderpaul, looking a shadow of the player who has carried West Indies for so long, dragged on to James Anderson’s first ball after tea. With an eye to the future, it could be very significant that West Indies held their nerve without a major contribution from Chanderpaul. It might not be the end for him yet, but it can’t be far away.
Shortly after his departure, with West Indies 87 for 4, came a crucial moment. Blackwood, in a moment of hot-headedness that would not become a hallmark of a very calm innings, charged at Joe Root, had a mighty swing and missed, but Jos Buttler could not gather the stumping. It was the last clear-cut chance that England had before the match was gone as Blackwood and Bravo became increasingly confident once the target was below three figures.
Bravo has often been accused, with some justification, of too many lapses in concentration and there were moments in this innings when he could have succumbed but impressively battled through. Before tea, the score froze as England strung together six consecutive maidens – a period which brought the wicket of Marlon Samuels – and then when he moved into the 30s he was offered regular reminders by Buttler of his propensity to fall in such a position. Instead, he eased to a 116-ball half-century.
Occasionally he came out of his shell, including hammering the first ball after tea from Root for six then twice launching Moeen Ali straight down the ground as the target came into view. The first of Bravo’s sixes off Moeen had been proceeded by 13 coming from an Anderson over (although two of the boundaries were byes and leg byes) which signalled there would be no final twist.
The result is a huge tick for Phil Simmons at the end of his first series in charge. It is only six months since West Indies pulled out of the tour of India, which was followed by a poor World Cup (although better than England’s). History tells us that problems are often not far away but, barring the final day in Grenada, the fight they have shown in this series offers some hope.
Quite what Colin Graves, the incoming ECB chairman who has been at this Test, will make of it remains to be seen. He branded West Indies “mediocre” before the series and said anything less than a series victory would bring serious questions. A few people may be sitting uneasily on the flight back to England.
Alastair Cook’s job is unlikely to be under threat – helped by his first-innings hundred – but he will need to explain England’s collective batting failure in this match. They had the best of conditions after winning the toss but could only muster 257 and the way West Indies secured the win added much kudos to their bowling display to keep England to 123, as they added 84 more on the third morning in 21 overs.
Cook was severely hampered in the field as he tried to defend 192 by the struggles of Moeen. Although Moeen removed Kraigg Brathwaite, courtesy of another fine slip catch from Chris Jordan, he again offered up far too many short deliveries. Cook could not trust him and was forced to turn back to Anderson. The way West Indies attacked Moeen is something he will have to be prepared for during the Ashes.
Anderson’s removal of Chanderpaul left him on 397 Test wickets – 400 will surely follow at Lord’s in a couple of the weeks against New Zealand, the same ground and opposition where he notched 300 in 2013 – but there has to be more wicket-taking support. Broad’s spell before tea was impressive, and touched 90mph, but he could not conjure one of those magic bursts that have studded his career. Jordan was the pick of the other quicks, making the opening breakthrough when he trapped Shai Hope lbw with a full inswinger, and his first spell showed further evidence of a bowler developing.
England’s 123 was their lowest Test total since being bowled out for 72 by Pakistan, in Abu Dhabi, on the tour in early 2012. The key lead being spoken about was 200 and in the end, after a dash from Buttler, they were not far away but although wickets continued to tumble with haste in the morning there was a hint of what could follow, with less on offer for the quicks than the wicket-fuelled second day when 18 fell.
For 20 minutes England ticked over comfortably, but Veerasammy Permaul struck with his second delivery of the day when Gary Ballance played for turn which did not eventuate and edged low to slip. West Indies thought they had struck again in the next over when Buttler was given caught behind before he had scored, but the DRS saved him.
Buttler and Stokes decided it was time for their natural game: attack. Buttler opened his account with an effortless straight six off Permaul while Stokes took up the challenge presented by the field to play the reverse sweep. But when Stokes drove Permaul to cover then Jason Holder removed Jordan and Broad in consecutive deliveries the innings was hurtling to a conclusion and, ultimately, England were well short. A few interesting weeks lie ahead of them.