When West Indies vice-captain Jermaine Blackwood walked to the middle of Kensington Oval in Barbados in the Second Apex Test match against England today, his team was on 101 for 3, still 407 runs shy of avoiding the follow-on.
When he departed some 68 overs later, West Indies were on 284 for 4, needing only 24 more runs to reach their immediate target. His contribution to the effort was 102 runs, with 11 fours and—surprise, surprise for a batsman who has generally preferred the aerial route—not a single six.
One of the six wickets still in hand was West Indies skipper Kraigg Brathwaite, who has so far contributed 109 runs to the total, accumulated off 337 balls and dotted with 12 well-timed boundaries.
Coming together at 101 for 3 before lunch, Blackwood and Brathwaite put their heads down and steadily reduced the England lead until it was down to double figures. The first fifty runs of the eventual 183-run partnership required 117 balls, the second in 116 and the third in 115.
Brathwaite, starting with a 40-run lead over his deputy, moved to his half-century off 167 balls, his slowest ever Test half-century. A picture of circumspection, he seemed intent perhaps not so much on getting to his own century, his 10th in Tests and his third against England, so much as on keeping his collapse-prone team out of trouble. He eventually got to 100 off 278 balls, with a delicate cut past slip for a couple of runs.
Blackwood, whose customary mode is attack, put away the array of offensive—in more senses that one—shots that have so often got him in trouble and focused too on steady accumulation.
After getting to 50 off 113 balls, he eventually required only 94 more balls to reach his second century against England and his third in Tests, almost seven years after his first. Almost one-third of his 2392 Test runs have come against England,
England had bowled nine maidens in the 27 overs on Day Two. They added 30 in today’s 90 overs but that is a statistic that certainly did not trouble the West Indian batsmen or their batting coach. But they will be pleased to note how, without taking risks, Blackwood contrived to close the 40-run gap on his skipper to seven runs by the time he was dismissed with the partnership worth 183 runs.
It was a day that began with the West Indies on 71 for 1 and facing a huge task. And it ended with Brathwaite’s side on 288 for 4 and facing some late drama. But in the end, the team and its supporters would have been feeling well satisfied with WI’s six-and-a-half-hour showing.
Like with First Test century-maker Nkrumah Bonner on Day Three in Antigua, Dan Lawrence was again at the centre of the drama. Called up for a spell with a maximum of five overs left in the day, the 5’11” off-spinner with the windmill arms enticed Blackwood to shoulder arms to one that came back in at him.
Mistake, said Umpire Nigel Duguid’s finger. The DRS review vindicated him.
After a couple of close shaves against Lawrence, nightwatchman Alzarri Joseph prodded forward at the last ball of the day. It cannoned off his pads into the hands of silly mid-off.
The review showed that there had been no edge. And Ball Tracking confirmed that the ball was missing leg stump. Whew!
Blackwood got two gifts as well, Root failing to review an LBW decision before he had scored and Saqib Mahmood having overstepped when his yorker cannoned into the WI number five’s stumps.
After 334 balls of almost unblemished application, Brathwaite too had a narrow escape late on, when he uncharacteristically charged down the wicket at Jack Leach with the score on 284, only to see the ball squeeze through bat and bad and miss the leg stump.
Unsighted, the impressive Ben Foakes fluffed the sharp stumping chance as the ball ricocheted off his pads with his gloves nowhere in the picture.
Up to that point, the captain and vice-captain had completely frustrated Root and his fast bowlers, who had largely been unable to extract any great help from the pitch. Leach, the one deemed most likely to effect the breakthrough, delivered just over one-third of his team’s overs but was rewarded with the solitary wicket of Shamarh Brooks.
And it was a giveaway—the overnight batsman crashing a short ball from the left-hander straight to Chris Woakes at point in the eighth over of the morning.
Ten overs and 18 runs later, umpire Duguid and Gregory Brathwaite seemed to give England the gift of Bonner’s wicket, the fourth umpire seemingly ignoring a spike suggesting that the First Test century-maker had got a nick on a ben Stokes delivery and confirming the standing umpire’s LBW decision.
After that, Blackwood and Brathwaite put their heads down and steadily reduced the England lead until it was down to double figures.
Thanks to the two team leaders, tomorrow’s Day Four task is much easier although the focus remains unchanged. The first task is to ensure that 308 is reached without serious damage. That done, the task will be to try to get as close to the second target of 50.
Or even past it.
After today’s showing and with the skipper still steering the ship, the WI will probably believe that that is not beyond them.
(SUMMARISED DAY THREE SCORES)
England 1st Inns: 507 for 9 dec. (150.5 overs) (Joe Root 153, Ben Stokes 120, Dan Lawrence 91, Chris Woakes 41; Veerasammy Permaul 3/126, Kemar Roach 2/68, Jayden Seales 1/55)
West Indies 1st Inns: 288 for 4 (117 overs) (Kraigg Brathwaite 109*, Jermaine Blackwood 102, Shamarh Brooks 39, Dan Lawrence 5-2-4-1, Ben Stokes 1/34, Matthew Fisher 1/44, Jack Leach 44-14-97-1)