After a 354-ball, nine-hour marathon that had yielded 123 runs at a strike rate of 34.64, Nkrumah Bonner found himself at bat with only 14 more deliveries left in the day’s play.
All arms and legs, part-timer Dan Lawrence ran in and served up an off-spinner that spun down the leg-side. Bonner flicked loosely at it, Ben Foakes caught it and appealed. Ultra-Edge revealed that the West Indies number four had feathered it on its way through to him.
The 33-year-old Bonner was easily the star of today’s third day’s play in the First Apex Test between Kraigg Brathwaite’s West Indies and Joe Root’s England at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in North Sound, Antigua. His second century in ten Tests ensured that it is West Indian not English noses that are now in front.
But he will be kicking himself that, unlike this morning, tomorrow he won’t be one of the two batsmen walking to the middle to try to stretch the West Indies’ 373 for 9 to at least 411, a round 100-run lead.
Bonner’s concentration and application steered the lower-middle and lower order through four partnerships worth 79, 73, 44 and 46—separated by a brief three-run stand with Alzarri Joseph (2 off 7), the only one of the already dismissed batsmen who failed to reach double figures.
So well did most of Brathwaite’s men apply themselves to their task that a mere 171 runs came off the day’s 90.1 overs. But the men in maroon will feel well satisfied with the outcome of what was an attritional day’s play.
Although the pitch today was unhelpful to England’s toiling bowlers, Bonner said he observed some variable bounce and believes it is deteriorating. He suggested that another hour in the middle for the West Indies batsmen could give their bowlers a defendable target.
“The wicket is deteriorating,” said Bonner. “So once our bowlers come and bowl straight, we have a fighting chance.”
Bonner was completely untroubled by the track today though and similarly nonplussed by Root’s bowlers and his frequent bowling changes. Dropped once in the slips off Jack Leach and twice reprieved by Ball Tracking, he never allowed any of that to disturb his concentration—except perhaps right at the end.
He helped Craig Overton over the fine-leg boundary for his only six and added a handful of sweet pulls, sweeps and occasional drives to earn himself 12 boundaries.
From 34 not out at the start of play, he moved steadily to 50 off 147 balls and then to his century off 257 balls.
But he lost Jason Holder’s company early after only four runs had been added. The tall allrounder, on 45, offered defensive strokes to the first five balls of Ben Stokes’ second over of the day. The sixth was just slightly wider of off-stump and he started to reach for it and then changed his mind. But he could not get his bat out of the way in time and Foakes behind the stumps took the catch.
It meant that England had the early breakthrough they needed, with the new ball a mere nine overs away. The hoped-for collapse never came for the visitors, though.
Joshua Da Silva (32 off 88, 1 x 4), who replaced Holder, put his head down and emulated the former skipper’s Wednesday showing, keeping out the good balls and taking full advantage of most of the bad ones. He and Bonner weathered the dreaded new ball storm and saw their team to 271 at the lunch interval.
When, halfway between lunch and tea, Da Silva’s second review against an LBW decision proved unsuccessful, WI were still 32 runs shy of their first target, England’s 311. And they were still 29 short when Joseph fell into the leg-side trap set for him by Root, pulling Overton straight down substitute Ollie Pope’s throat at deep fine-leg.
But Kemar Roach (15 off 89) was in no mood to be suckered. For the next 30 overs or so, he showed off a very solid defence and occasionally unleashed an attacking shot or two to earn himself three boundaries.
Well aware of his prowess with the bat—Roach has a top score of 41 in Tests and a first-class half century—Bonner made no attempt to shield him, taking every available run and eventually seeing the total move into the black.
However, with the score on 326 for 7, Bonner stroked Leach to Pope at backward point and took off for what was always going to be a tight single. The substitute’s throw found the pacer a foot short of his ground.
Veerasammy Permaul (26 off 87) too is no mug with the bat—he has scored 86 in a first-class match—and he was not out of step with the day’s tone, set by the defiant Bonner.
“All of my runs are very gritty,” said Bonner. “I am not a free-scoring guy.”
Bonner, 32 when he made his Test debut, was not always sure that he would make it this far. He described his century against England as ‘very emotional’.
“Cold bumps take all over my body,” said Bonner. “Getting some runs against England is always a good feeling, especially if your team is under pressure… There have always been ups and downs for me but I always kept the faith and finally it paid off.”
Permaul and number 11 Jayden Seales (0 off 5) have the unenviable task of trying to make the First Test into one worth remembering for the entire team, as they try to extend the West Indies lead to as close as possible to three figures—or beyond—when play resumes at 10am tomorrow.
Root will not have the services of his fastest bowler, Mark Wood, who remained off the field after lunch nursing an elbow injury.
That may make things a little easier for the last-wicket pair.
(SUMMARISED DAY THREE SCORES)
England 1st Inns: 311 all out (100.3 overs) (Jonny Bairstow 140, Ben Foakes 42, Ben Stokes 36; Jayden Seales 22-6-79-4, Kemar Roach 21-3-86-2, Jason Holder 21-11-24-2, Alzarri Joseph 20.3-2-70-2)
West Indies 1st Inns: 373 for 9 (157 overs) (Nkrumah Bonner 123, Kraigg Brathwaite 55, Jason Holder 45, John Campbell 35; Ben Stokes 2/42, Craig Overton 2/85, Dan Lawrence 2-2-0-1)